Japanese Phone Etiquette: Mistakes to Avoid for Better Client Calls

Japanese Phone Etiquette: Mistakes to Avoid for Better Client Calls

Phone calls remain the primary way Japanese prefer to get in touch with companies and corporations, according to Trans-cosmos Inc.'s December 2020 survey

In fact, 77% of survey respondents listed the phone as their first choice for contacting a service. 

So what does this mean for your business in Japan? 

Brush up on your Japanese phone etiquette to maximize every chance you get to make a beautiful impression. 

Today we cover some easy-to-make phone mistakes—and the phrases to use instead—translated from Keigo to kotoba zukai by the Japanese Service Manners Association (JSMA), and other online resources. 

Mistake 1. When confirming the name of the other person

❌ 恐れ入りますが、お名前をいただけますでしょうか?= osoreirimasuga, onamae wo itadakemasu deshouka

❌ お名前頂戴できますか?= onamae chyoudai dekimasuka

In the first example, while itadakimasu is used in humble language as a way of politely accepting something—other people’s names are not something you receive. So NG!

Similarly, in the second example of what not to use, choudai is a polite word that expresses “receiving,” but it is not meant to be used in association with people’s names. 

If you wish to confirm the name of the other person on the phone, use either of the following sentences, both of which politely request the other to state their name.

✔️ 失礼ですが、お名前をうかがえますでしょうか。= shitsureidesuga, onamae wo ukagaemasudeshyouka 

✔️ 恐れ入りますが、お名前をお聞かせ願えますでしょうか?= osoreirimasuga, onamae wo okikasenegaemasu deshyouka

These sentences can be roughly translated as, “Please excuse this bothersome request, but would you be willing to give me your name.”

Mistake 2. When it is difficult to hear the other person

❌ よく聞こえないですが… = yoku kikoenai desuga

Saying that you can’t hear the other person might appear to be blaming or finding fault with the other. And, as much as possible, you want to avoid directly asking the other person to speak more loudly. 

Instead, suggest that the phone or the connection could be at fault and then trail off politely. 

Here are two sentences you can use for such cases. 

✔️ 申し訳ございません。お電話が少々遠いようなのですが… = moushiwakegozaimasen, odenwa ga shoushou toui you nanodesuga

✔️ 申し訳ございません。お電話が遠いようでございます。= moushiwakegozaimasen, odenwa ga toui you degozaimasu

Both sentences can be roughly translated as, “I am sorry to trouble you, but the phone call sounds quite distant.”

Mistake 3. When you wish for them to repeat themselves

❌すみません、もう一回お願いします。= sumimasen, mou ikkai onegaishimasu

Perhaps the connection was faulty or they mumbled their way through their request, whatever the case, asking the other to repeat themselves must be done with great respect, the right tone of voice, and zero brusqueness as such a request could hurt the others’ feelings. 

Here are the phrases to use when you wish to politely ask the other to repeat themselves. 

✔️ 恐れ入りますが、もう一度お聞かせいただけますでしょうか。= osore irimasuga, mou ichido okikase itadakemasu deshou ka

✔️ 申し訳ございません。もう一度うかがってもよろしいでしょうか。= moushiwakegozaimasen. Mouichido ukagatte mo yoroshiideshou ka

Both sentences can be roughly translated as, “I am sorry to trouble you, but could you repeat that one more time.”


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Mistake 4. When you want to call the other person back 

❌ あとでかけ直します。= atode kake naoshimasu

When you realize that a call will take longer than first expected, or perhaps there are details you must first confirm before continuing the phone conversation, then the polite phrase to use is the following: 

✔️ のちほどお電話をさせていただいてもよろしいでしょうか?= nochi hodo odenwa wo sasete itadaitemo yoroshii deshouka

✔️ のちほど、折り返しお電話してもよろしいでしょうか?= nochi hodo, orikaeshi odenwa shite mo yoroshii deshou ka

Both sentences can be roughly translated as, “Would it be all right if I return your call?”

Also, explaining why you need to call them back will help them understand this request. For instance,「 打ち合わせに入ってしまいますので」= uchiawase ni haitte shimaimasunode = “I am about to enter a meeting.”

Mistake 5. When the call comes to an end 

❌では、これで = dewa, kore de

In Goiryoku.com’s article on phone etiquette, they note that the caller should be the one to hang up first

Here’s why: a customer calling a support line will typically end the call when they have received the answers to their questions. 

Or in another instance, if you are calling a business partner with a specific question, you would end the call when you received the answer to your question. 

In such cases, the person who made the call will typically end the call by saying the following phrase:

✔️ 失礼します。= shitsurei shimasu

✔️ 失礼いたします。= shitsurei itashimasu

Both sentences can be roughly translated as “apologies for the intrusion.”

In return, the reply to 「失礼します。」is simply to repeat the phrase back.

In closing

Japanese phone etiquette frequently comes down to memorizing certain well-established phrases, quite a few of which we have covered in this article. 

But there’s one other way to ensure you’re always making an elegant impression on the phone.  

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  • A Japanese telephone number for your business

  • A phone number with a Tokyo area code (03)

  • A live receptionist service, from 10 AM to 6 PM

  • Unlimited calls during reception desk's "Open Hours" 

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