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Telephone etiquette in Japan:
Basic Business Telephone Etiquette in Japanese

Once you start working with or become an employee at a Japanese company, you will need to communicate with your customer or other business persons by telephone. If the caller can speak English then it makes things easier; nevertheless, as you are in Japanese environment, it is more appropriate to answer the phone in Japanese. Also, there are still many Japanese with limited exposure to dealing with foreigners who might freeze if forced to take a phone call from someone unable to speak Japanese. Using these Japanese phrases will help make the Japanese-speaking caller feel more at ease.

When you think of telephone conversations in Japanese, you may be reminded of the words “Moshi moshi (hello)”. Indeed, this expression is very common and frequently used in every phone call in Japan, but this is not enough in a business context.

When a Japanese company hires a newcomer, the first thing he or she is usually taught is telephone etiquette. This goes to show the important role proper telephone courtesy still plays in Japan, especially in a business environment. We will introduce some basic conversation and words here, but those looking for a more extensive guide may wish to search for Japanese internet sites aimed at new graduates which explain telephone courtesy.

<Some examples of Japanese business manners website (in Japanese)>

These sites are likely to have long lists of phrases and explanations. As such lists devote much of their content to the use of honorific language (keigo), we have left it out of our list.

Before running through a sample conversation, first let’s look at some basic telephone etiquette usually taught to new graduates.

Business manner for telephone conversations
When making a call:
  1. Don’t call early in the morning, during lunch hour or right before they are about to leave. Avoid calling someone when you know they are busy. If it is not urgent you might call between 5-7 pm.
  2. If the caller is a customer, wait until they hang up before you put down the receiver.
  3. Hang up the phone receiver quietly.

When answering the phone:
  1. When the phone rings, pick it up as quickly as possible. (within 3 rings) (You may say “おまたせして申し訳ございません” (omatase shite moshiwake gozaimasen: “Sorry for keeping you waiting”) if the phone is left ringing for too long).
  2. When passing the phone to an associate, put the caller on hold so that they can’t hear your conversation (it is considered to be rude.)
  3. Don’t make the caller wait too long. If the person they are asking for can’t answer immediately, you may ask the caller to call back later, offer to take a message for your associate to return the call or help the caller yourself.


Next, we’ll look at a basic telephone conversation. Here, Michael is a new associate in a Japanese company.

  Person Japanese   Japanese (pronunciation)  English Translation
1  Michael  はい、フランシールです。  Hai, Franchir desu.  This is Franchir.
2  Customer ABC社の渡辺と申します。いつもお世話になっております。  ABC-sha no Watanabe to moshimasu.Itsumo osewa ni natte orimasu.  This is Watanabe from ABC company. We always appreciate your support.
3  Michael  いつもお世話になっております。  Itsumo osewa ni natte orimasu.  We always appreciate your support. (*)
4  Customer  木村様をお願いできますでしょうか。
 Kimura-sama wo onegai dekimasu desho ka.
Kimura sama irasshaimasu ka?
 I would like to speak to Mr. Kimura.
5  Michael  少々お待ち下さい。  Shosho omachi kudasai. 
 Hold on, please.
(*)This is a set expression. When making a call, always use this expression even when calling a company for the first time. If the caller says this, repeat it even if you don’t know him .
Here are some other useful expressions.
 Japanese  Japanese (prononciation)  English Translation
すみません、木村は唯今他の電話に出ております。 Sumimasen, Kimura wa tadaima hoka no denwa ni dete orimasu.
(Please note that you are to say “Kimura” and not “Kimura-san”. When talking with someone from another company, you usually omit “san” when addressing internal staff. If the caller is also from your company, add “san”.)
 I’m sorry. He's currently on the other line.
おそれいりますが、後ほどお電話をいただけますか? Osore irimasu ga, nochihodo odenwa wo itadakemasu ka? Could you call back in a little bit?
おそれいりますが5分後にお電話いただけますか? Osore irimasu ga, gofun-go ni odenwa itadakemasu ka? Could you call back in five minutes?
ただいま席をはずしています。 Tadaima seki o hazushite imasu.  He's not at his desk now.
 Honjitsu wa oyasumi o totte orimasu. 
Honjitsu wa oyasumi o itadaite orimasu.
(“頂く(Itadaku)” is an honorific word expressing the speaker's humility of taking something, in this case a day off. As the caller can’t speak to your associate due to his (selfish) absence, some Japanese use the second phrase.)
 He's off today.
外出中です。 Gaishutsu-chu desu. He's out.
会議中です。 Kaigi-chu desu. He in a meeting.
現在出張に出ております。 Genzai shuccho ni dete orimasu.  He is currently on a business trip. 
本日はまだ出社しておりません。 Honjitsu wa mada shussha shite orimasen.  He hasn't come in yet.
本日は帰宅しました。 Honjitsu wa kitaku shimashita. He's already left for the day.
折り返し木村から電話をさせましょうか。  Orikaeshi Kimura kara Denwa o sasemasho ka. Shall I have Mr. Kimura call you back?
伝言をお伝えしますが。 Dengon o otsutae shimasuga. Would you like to leave a message?
もしよろしければ、用件をお伺いさせていただきますが。 Moshi yoroshikereba, yoken wo oukagai sasete itadakimasu ga.  If you don’t mind, might I ask what this is regarding? (Implying that you may be able to help.)
恐れ入りますが、念のためにお電話番号を教えていただけますでしょうか。 Osore irimasu ga, nen no tame ni odenwa bango o oshiete itadakemasu desho ka. Just in case, can I ask your telephone number?
念のために復唱します。お電話番号は03-XXXX-XXXX、ABC社の渡辺様ですね。 Nen no tame ni fukusho shimasu. Denwa bango wa 03-XXXX-XXXX, ABC-sha no Watanabe sama desu ne. Let me repeat that. Your telephone number is 03-XXXX-XXXX, and you are Mr. Watanabe from ABC company.
何時くらいまでなら、お電話をおかけしても大丈夫でしょうか。 Nanji gurai made nara, odenwa o okake shite mo daijobu desho ka? How late can he call you back?
少々聞こえづらいのですが。 Shosho kikoezurai no desu ga.  I can’t hear you very well.
恐れ入りますがもう少し大きな声で話していただけますか。 Osore irimasu ga, mou sukoshi ooki na koe de hanashite itadakemasu ka? Sorry, could you please speak more loudly?
恐れ入りますがもう少しゆっくりとお話しいただきませんか。 Osore irimasu ga, mou sukoshi yukkuri ohanashite itadakimasu ka? Sorry, could you speak a bit slower?
失礼ですがもう一度お名前を教えていただけますでしょうか。 Shitsurei desu ga, mou ichido onamae o oshiete itadakemasu desho ka. Sorry, can I ask your name again?
私、マイケルと申します。ご用件は確かに承りましたので、どうぞよろしくお願いします。 Watakushi, Michael to moshimasu. Goyoken wa tashika ni uketamawarimashita no de dozo yoroshiku onegai shimasu.  (As basic business manner, even if you are male, call yourself “私(watashi or watakushi)and not “僕(boku)” or “俺 (ore)“.) My name is Michael. I have made note of your call. Thank you.
失礼いたします。 Shitsurei itashimasu.
(usual ending when hanging up the phone) 

As you can see above in this sample telephone conversation, the basic and standard phrases are easy to use.

Finally, if the person the caller is asking for can’t come to the phone, it is OK. If that person is out or on another line, don’t forget to write down the name of the company and caller, their telephone number and the day and time you received the call, and give the message to your associate.
Franchir Co., Ltd
4-19-27, Mejiro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo
171-0031 Japan
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