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Telephone Phrases

It is always difficult to talk on the phone in a language you don't understand well. Don't give up though. Practice will help a lot. Listen very carefully to what the other person says. Talking on the phone in Japanese has an added complication, since there are some formal phrases customarily used in phone conversations. (The Japanese normally talk very politely on the phone unless talking with a friend.)

Telephone Numbers

A telephone number (denwa bango) consists of the three parts, for example, (XX) XXXX-XXXX. The first part is the area code. The second and last part are the person's number. Each number is usually read separately, linking the parts with the particle "no". In telephone numbers 0 is often pronounced as zero, 4 as yon, 7 as nana, and 9 as kyuu (as 0, 4, 7 and 9 each have two different pronunciations). If you do not know the Japanese numbers, click here to learn them. If my phone number were 1234-5678 it would be read "ichi ni san yon no go roku nana hachi." (Remember 'no' takes the place of the dash in the number.)

To ask someone's number you can say Denwa bango wa nan ban desu ka.


In Japanese, a lot of set phrases are used when speaking on the phone, especially in business situations. One important phrase is "moshi moshi." It is used by the caller when the person at the other end picks up. Some people say "moshi moshi" to answer the phone, but "hai" is used more often especially in business. (Do not say 'mushi mushi' that means 'bugs, bugs' and sounds rather silly.) Moshi moshi can also be said when you think that the caller cannot hear you or to make sure the caller is still on the line.

Before hanging up the phone it is common to say shitsurei shimasu or shitsurei itashimasu. This indicates that you are about to hang up.

At the Office
Watanabe to moushimasu. This is Mr./Ms. Watanabe.
Ogura-san wa irasshaimasu ka. Is Mr./Ms. Ogura there?

Tanaka-san o onegaishimasu.

Could I speak to Mr./Ms. Tanaka?
Hai, orimasu. Yes, he/she's in.
Moushiwake arimasen ga, tadaima gaishutsu shite orimasu.
I'm sorry, he's/she's not here at the moment.
Naisen no XX-ban o onegaishimasu.
I'd like extension XX please.
Shou shou omachi kudasai.
Just a moment, please.
Shitsurei desu ga, dochira sama desu ka.
Excuse me, but who's calling, please?
Nanji goro omodori desu ka.
Do you know about when he/she will be back?
Chotto wakarimasen.
I'm not sure.
Mousugu modoru to omoimasu.
He/she should be back soon.
Yuugata made modorimasen. He/she won't be back till this evening.
Nanika otsutae shimashou ka.
Can I take a message?
Please do.
Iie, kekkou desu.
No, that's OK, thank you.
O-denwa kudasai to otsutae negaemasu ka.
Could you please ask him/her to call me?
Mata denwa shimasu to otsutae kudasai. Could you please tell him/her I'll call back later?
Konban mata kakenaoshite kudasai. Please call back this evening.

Someone's Home

Yamada-san no otaku desu ka.

Is this Mr./Ms. Yamada's residence?
Hai, sou desu. Yes, it is.
Watakushi wa Ichiro desu ga. This is Ichiro.
Haruko-san wa irasshaimasu ka. Is Haruko there?
Yabun osoku ni sumimasen. I'm sorry to phone you so late at night.
Dengon o onegaishimasu. Can I leave a message?
Mata ato de denwa shimasu. I'll call back later.

Phone Troubles


I'm sorry.
Motto yukkuri hanashite kudasai.
Please speak more slowly.
Mou ichido itte kudasai. Please say it again.
Mou ichido onegaishimasu. Could you repeat that please?
Wakarimasu ka. Do you understand?
Wakarimasen. I don't understand.
Iie, chigaimasu. No, you're mistaken. (Use this when people have dialed the wrong number.)
Machigaemashita. I made a mistake. (I dialed the wrong number.)
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