Much like English, the Japanese language has loads of different ways to say hello and goodbye, ranging from casual and boyish to polite and business-like. However, did you know there’s a special greeting reserved just for picking up the phone? Read on to learn more about “moshi moshi” and how you can start using this essential expression!
History, Meaning, and Use of Moshi Moshi
The greeting “moshi moshi” (もしもし) does not actually mean “hello.” This expression is thought to be derived from the verb 申す (もうす) which means “to speak.” So the term “moshi moshi” can be translated as “I’m going to speak now.“
Although 申す is a humble verb and would normally only be used in situations where the speaker is trying to lower their social status, もしもし is actually a casual expression used when a friend or family member calls you up on the phone.
There is also a theory that “moshi moshi” gained traction as a way to ensure that the person speaking to you isn’t a ghost, as spooky creatures like foxes and youkai cannot say “moshi” twice.
Regardless of where the term comes from, it’s a key part of daily Japanese and you ought to practice when and how to say it!
Each syllable of “Moshi moshi” is usually pronounced in full, but don’t be surprised if someone drops the last “i” and says something more like “moshi mosh.” You can raise the intonation of the final syllable as though asking a question (“Hello?”) or leave it flat like a statement or interjection (“Hello!”).
Watch the video below to hear how a Japanese native pronounces moshi moshi and the origin of the word!
It’s okay to begin your phone call with “moshi moshi” whether you are the caller or the answerer. However, it is more commonly used when you answer an incoming call. Let’s take a look at some examples in Japanese:
B: Hello! Is now a good time (to talk)?
A: Sure, I’m free. What’s wrong?
A: Hello, Akane-chan?
B: Yes! Oh, Takeshi-kun. Where are you now?
“Moshi moshi” is also a good expression for when you can’t quite hear the person on the other line because the phone is breaking up.
A: … 前 … で待ってるよ。
A: I’m waiting…in front of…
B: Huh? Hello? The line’s bad and I can’t hear you. Could you say that again?
When NOT to Use Moshi Moshi
Moshi moshi is not appropriate for business contexts or phone calls with anyone you’d want to use honorifics with. If you’re getting an incoming call from a number you don’t recognize, it’d be best to stick to はい (“yes”) and introduce yourself. For example:
A: Hello, this is Yamazaki. May I ask who is calling, please?
B: This is ABC Beauty Salon.
In a business context, you ought to use the でございます form and mention your name in conjunction with your title or office. Then you can use the set expression [いつも]お世話になっております (“Thank you for your [continuous] support”) to get the conversation going:
A: Hello, this is Yamada at ABC Company.
B: Thank you for your continuous support. This is Tanaka from XYZ Company.
A: Oh, we should be the ones thanking you for your continuous support.
B: I hate to disturb you at such a busy time, but…
Hanging Up & Other helpful phone expressions
Just like answering the phone, the way you should end your call depends on your relationship to the person you’re speaking with.
For friends and family, a simple はい、じゃあね (Okay, see you later) or はい、日曜日にね (Okay, see you Sunday, then) will suffice. For a more formal or business situation, thank the other person for their time and use 失礼いたします (literally: I’m being rude) to hang up:
A: Thank you so much for today despite your business. Alright, goodbye.
Another very important thing to note regarding phone etiquette is that having a phone conversation while on public transit in Japan is considered extremely rude and disruptive. Although buses and subway trains in the U.S. often have signs warning you to stay off your phone and keep your voice down, locals take this as more of a suggestion than a rule. This is not the case in Japan. Unless it’s a real emergency, you’re better off letting the call go to voicemail or quickly telling the caller you’ll have to ring them back:
A: Sorry, but I’m on the train right now, so I’ll call you back later.
Finally, what to do if you think your caller has the wrong number? It’s not particularly polite to directly correct a stranger in Japanese, so rather than just pointing out “You have the wrong number,” you can apologize and turn it into a tentative suggestion:
A: Hello, is this Mr. Yamada?
B: No, this isn’t Mr. Yamada. I’m sorry, but I think you might have the wrong number.
Feeling ready to start making and answering some phone calls in Japanese? You can practice more Japanese grammar and expressions for real-life situations using the LingoDeer and Deer Plus apps! Download them and keep in touch with your target language every day! 頑張ってください！