Moshi-Moshi: How to Answer Phone in Japanese

Have you ever heard the interesting expression “Moshi-Moshi”? If you have ever been to Japan, you know that “Moshi-Moshi” is what Japanese people say when they answer the phone. But what does it really mean? “Moshi-moshi [もしもし]” is a common Japanese phrase that Japanese people use when they pick up the phone.

It is a casual greeting used for friends and family, like a “hello”, but actually means something completely different! In English, it literally means something like “to say to say” or “I speak, I speak,” but not only that. There are manners to use “Moshi-Moshi” and some reasons why “Moshi-Moshi” is used mostly on the phone. In this article, you will find great tips to keep in mind when using “Moshi-Moshi”. Let’s take a look!

What does “Moshi-Moshi” actually mean?

“Moshi” actually comes from the verb “mousu” [申す], which is a modest form of “say” (Iu 言う). In the Edo period, it was used in ordinary conversation when speaking to someone of higher status. Originally, the words “Moushiagemasu” [申し上げます], Moushimasu [申します], or “Mousu” [申す] was used. They all mean “I will say (talk).” Eventually, it was shortened to “Moushi” [申し] and was used to get someone’s attention, such as to say “Hey!”. When you say “Moshi Moshi”, you are actually saying “I’ll talk” twice politely. But it feels more like “Hey, buddy.”

In short, the politeness level of conjugations is as follows:

申し上げます > 申します > 申す

Nowadays, Japanese people often use this expression at the beginning of their telephone conversations without thinking about the origin of the phrase.

Origin of “Moshi-Moshi”

When you make a phone call, Japanese people say “Moshi-Moshi.” But then, Why “Moshi-Moshi”? Telephones were first introduced in Japan on December 16, 1890. Today, this date is the Day of the Telephone (Denwa no Hi 電話の日) in Japan. At that time, only rich people could afford telephones. Since they were rich, they were used to talking down to others. Therefore, the common “phone greeting” was “Oi-Oi” [おいおい] or “Hey YOU!” The person on the other end would respond with “Hai, you gozaimasu” [はい、ようございます] or “Hai, you gozansu” [はい、ようござんす]. Both are a humble way of saying, “Yes, I am ready,” which means the caller is ready to talk.

However, at this time, the performance of the phone is poor, and “Moushi-Moushi” is used to say “explanation” that “I will say it” and is shortened to “Moshi-Moshi”. This woman’s word was used repeatedly, it shrunk to “Moshi-Moshi”. “Moshi-Moshi” began to be established around 1893 (Meiji 26). As usual, men said “Oi-Oi,” but women said “Moshi-Moshi,” the short form of “Moushi-Moushi” And both men and women came to say “Moshi-Moshi.” It is said that around 1902 (Meiji 35), the number of male telephone operators decreased and most of them are now mainly women telephone operators.

Why do we say “Moshi-Moshi” twice?

“Moshi” in “Moshi-Moshi” is an abbreviation for, “I say” and is repeated twice. It is said that the reason for this repetition is because you want to prove that you are not a ghost [youkai]. Long ago, there was a theory that spirits [Youkai] are called only once when they speak to people. Although 1 person was called only once, he said that he was killed by a Ghost [Youkai] when he answered.

For this reason, it was decided that people who work in the mountains should always call each other twice in a row. Since the phone does not know who the other person is, it is likely that he repeated the same thing twice as “Moshi-Moshi” to prove that he is not a ghost. Due to the influence of the legend, it is still common today to say “Moshi-Moshi” on a telephone where the other person cannot be seen.

When Japanese use “Moshi-Moshi”?

“Moshi-Moshi” is only used to answer the phone. The only exception, you might see in face-to-face conversation is asking someone if they are still listening, as sort of a, “Hello? Anybody in there?” You should use “Moshi-Moshi” primarily when answering the telephone. But only when you receive a phone call from friends or family. If there is a long pause or a lost connection during the call, you can use “Moshi-Moshi” to make sure the person is still on the line (again only when the call is from a friend or family member).

For example, when your friend’s voice becomes choppy, you can say “Moshi-Moshi kikoemasuka”? “もしもし聞こえますか?” Which means “Hello, can you hear me?” That is the way you will use Moshi Moshi 90% of the time. If you are answering the telephone and it is someone other than family or friends on the other line, do not say “Moshi-Moshi”. There is another set of words to use. We will get to those later. That means if you’re picking up a call from your manager or boss, it’s better to say hai (はい), which means a polite “Yes”.

Other Phrases you need to know

When you make a phone call, you usually say “Hello”. However, it is rude to say “Moshi-Moshi” in the business scene because it is a casual expression and gives the impression that looking down on someone. “Moshi-Moshi” is used only for casual phone calls. So, what should we say in a business situation? There are several phrases that help your business phone call situation. You can use the below phrases. When answering a call at the company, “Odenwa arigatougozaimasu” [Thank you for calling], in the first voice. Also, it is good manners not to use “Moshi-Moshi” when making a call from here, such as “I’m sorry for being busy”.

1.”YES”

The easiest and safest way to answer the phone is by saying “Hai” [はい]. It means “Yes,” but on the phone, it serves the same function as “Hello.” Just remember to identify yourself and your company right after.

[Example]

① “Hai, XX (company name) de gozaimasu” はい、××会社でございます。

Hello, this is Tofugu, LLC.

② “Hai, XX (company name) no Kouichi de gozaimasu”はい、××会社のコウイチです。

Hello, this is Koichi at Kanemochi Co., Ltd.

Note

Japanese people usually use their family names on the phone. A more polite form of “です” would be preferable as well. You would use “Moushimasu” [申します], the humble form of “Say,” after your name. But only use it if you are introducing yourself to someone for the first time, as it is weird to use “Moushimasu” if you are talking to someone who knows you well. However, if you are calling a company that you have called many times before, it is still appropriate to use “Moushimasu.” This is because you do not know who will be receiving the call, so using “Moushimasu” is a polite way to introduce yourself to whoever has picked up your call.

[Example]

A: Hai Suzuki- Kabushikigaisha de gozaimasuはい、スズキ株式会社でございます。

Hello, this is Suzuki Co., Ltd.

B: Suzuki- Kabushikigaisha no Donata desuka?  スズキ 株式会社のどなたですか?

Who am I speaking to?

A: Sato to moushimasu/ Satou Taro to moushimasu 佐藤と申します / 佐藤太郎と申します

This is Satou. / This is Taro Satou.

It might be more polite to mention your full name when asked to identify yourself, especially if your family name is common.

2. “Thank you for your Call”

Another way to answer the phone is to thank the person who called with “Odenwa arigatou gozaimasu” [お電話ありがとうございます]. This means “Thank you for calling”

[Example]

Odenwa arigatougozaimasu, Kabushikigaisha A no Yamada de gozaimasu.

お電話ありがとうございます。株式会社Aの山田でございます。

Thank you for your call. This is Yamada at A Co., Ltd.

Note

Depending on the company, “Kabushikigaisha” (Co., Ltd.) can come before or after the company name. Saying a company name correctly matters in Japanese culture. It’s considered rude to mess up a company’s name, even if it’s just the “co., Ltd.” part.

3. “I appreciate all you have done for us”

You can also go a step further and thank the caller for everything they have ever done ever. The phrase is “Itsumo osewa ni natte orimasu” [いつもお世話になっております] or “Osewa ni natte orimasu” [お世話になっております]. Use these two on the phone in business situations. There are other variations for other kinds of conversations too.

[Example]

Osewaninatteorimasu. Bacon Pizza no Ito degozaimasu

お世話になっております。ベーコンピザ渋谷店の伊藤でございます。

I appreciate all you have done for us. This is Itou at Bacon Pizza, Shibuya branch.

4. “I`ve received this forwarded call”

When you receive a forwarded call in a business situation, say “Oddenwa kawarimashita” [お電話かわりました]. If it’s a casual conversation, you could just say, “Moshi-Moshi [もしもし] [name]です. If a call is forwarded, the caller already knows the company, and the call was forwarded to you. So just say your name. But, if the call was forwarded from a different department, you might want to say your department name and your name.

[Example]

Odenwa kawarimashita. Watanabe de gozaimasu. お電話かわりました。渡辺でございます。

I have received this forwarded call. This is Watabane.

“PARDON ME”

As I mentioned before, you can use “Moshi-Moshi” on the phone when there is a long silence, or you can’t hear the person on the other line. But this is not okay for business situations. Instead, say “Osoreirimasu” [恐れいります] meaning “Pardon me.” After that, say you are having trouble hearing. But do it indirectly.

Use “Telephone seems to be distant,” which is “Odenwa ga tooi you desu” お電話が遠いようです. This way it is nobody’s fault. The telephone just went far away.

[Example]

Osoreirimasuga, Odenwa ga tooiyounonodesuga, Mouichido onegaishimasu.

恐れいります。お電話が少々遠いようなのですが、もう一度お願いします

Pardon me. The telephone seems to be distant. Could you say that again, please?

“Moshi-Moshi” is not just a simple word, but there are interesting backgrounds and manners. Please keep in mind the above things and I hope these tips will help you when you come to Japan a lot!

Summarize

  • “Moshi-Moshi” means “I’m going to talk” and is mostly used in a Phone call.
  • “Moshi” actually comes from the verb “Mousu” [申す] which is a humble form of “to say”and, after 1893, “Moshi-Moshi” that short phrase of “Moushi-Moushi” was started to use
  • Please make sure that It is rude to say “Moshi-Moshi” in the business scene because it is a casual expression and gives the impression that looking down on someone.
  • When answering a call at the company, “Odenwa arigatougozaimasu” [Thank you for calling], or “Itsumo osewa ni natte orimasu” [いつもお世話になっております] “Osewa ni natte orimasu” [お世話になっております]. 

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About Yuri Sensei 25 Articles
I am Yuri. I have worked for several companies, involved in assisting foreigners and teaching Japanese. I have also worked in Vietnam, teaching Japanese. I would like to help students abroad and teach Japanese culture. My hobbies are traveling abroad and sports, like tennis. Following excitement and discovering new things inspires me a lot. My joy in life is to help people overseas so that I can pass on the charm of Japanese culture.