How to greet on the phone in Japanese

Itsumo osewa ni nate orimasu.
We appreciate all that you’ve done for us.

One of the relatively few Japanese phrases widely recognized outside Japan is moshi-moshi, which, among its other functions, is frequently used as a sort of greeting when one answers the telephone. A mere moshi-moshi will not suffice, however, when you answer the office phone. Let’s say it’s ten in the morning and the phone rings at the trading firm Asahi Shoji. You answer:

Ohayou gozaimasu. Asahi Shouji desu.
Good morning, Asahi Shouji.


Hai, Asahi Shouji de gozaimasu.
Hello, Asahi Shouji.

It’s essential to promptly state the name of the firm. Of the two alternatives shown above, the first is often preferred, since the initial greeting ohayou gozaimasu is thought to strike the sort of cheerful, resonant note that reflects a positive and businesslike atmosphere (not in the afternoon, though). Some firms have rules stating that callers must be greeted with an apology if the phone has rung more than, say, five times:

Omatase itashimashita. Asahi Shouji de gozaimasu.
Asahi Shouji. I’m sorry to keep you waiting.

Generally, the caller’s first duty is to identify herself, and that is your cue to say:

Itsumo osewa ni natte orimasu.
We appreciate all that you’ve done for us.

A variation frequently used by speakers of the Kansai dialect prevalent in western Honshu is:

Maido osewa ni natte orimasu.
We appreciate all that you’ve done for us.

To the analytical mind, it may seem inordinately gushy, even by Japanese standards, to use the words itsumo (literally, “always”) and maido (“every time”) with every Tom, Dick, and Hiroshi who happens to call. After all, the caller could be anyone, including a corporate extortionist or the disgruntled husband of the boss’s mistress. Still, it doesn’t pay to be too literal-minded about these things, and none but the most utterly cantankerous caller is likely to object to gratuitous words of appreciation.

Now and then you may encounter a caller who fails to disclose his name at the start of the conversation. In that case, you have to inquire:

失礼ですが、お名前を ……
Shitsurei desu ga, onamae o …
I’m sorry. May I have your name, please?


Shitsurei desu ga, dochira-sama deshou ka.
I’m sorry. May I ask who’s calling?

As noted elsewhere (see the section entitled “Pardon me for asking”) the message to be conveyed is so utterly predictable from the context that the expressions above are very frequently reduced to an abbreviation: the speaker utters only the introductory phrase and leaves the question itself unspoken.

失礼ですが ……
Shitsurei desu ga …
I’m sorry …

In some cases, such as when the caller has seized control of the conversation and is off and running before you get the chance to ask who’s on the other end, it can be more politic (and more fun) to take a euphemistic approach, one that has a fairly exact counterpart in English:

Osoreirimasu. Onamae ga kikitoremasen deshita no de, mou ichido onegai itashimasu.
I’m terribly sorry. I’m afraid I didn’t quite catch your name. Could you say it again, please?

This not only requires the caller to identity himself, but also subtly reminds him that he should have done so at the outset.

– Source: A handbook of common Japanese phrases

Some ways to make excuses and deny rumors

Enryo ga busata ni natte shimaimashita.
For fear of intruding I’m afraid I’ve fallen out of touch.

Now and then you may run into someone —a former colleague, say, or an old classmate—with whom you once had a long-standing tance that has since lapsed. At such times, this polite expression will provide a smooth opening to what could otherwise be an awkward reunion. This sort of greeting will also serve you well if you have occasion to get in touch with a current acquaintance whom you haven’t seen in a long while.

The meaning of the first part of this expression, translated here as “for fear of intruding,” emerges from the key term enryo, the implications of which may be clearer from the following, more elaborate example:

Amari hinpan ni otazune shite wa gomeiwaku ka to omoi, enryo shite orimashita.
I was afraid I’d make a nuisance of myself by calling on you too often, so I was keeping my distance (out of respect for your privacy).

The use of enryo thus implies that it was neither negligence nor any disinclination on your part that caused you to fall out of touch (gobusata) but only a sense of propriety and respect, lending this handy expression the tone of an explanation (though not necessarily a truthful one) rather than an apology.

In general, such explanations or excuses tend to adhere to a basic pattern: you testify to your original intention to do whatever it was and then point out how fate or circumstances intervened to prevent you from following through. In delivering such an account, you are likely to find one or more of the following expressions useful.

kokoro narazu mo (“in spite of my best intentions”), as in:

Kokoro narazu mo jūtai ni makikomare, tōchaku ga san-juppun mo okurete shimaimashita.
In spite of my best intentions I got stuck in traffic and ended up arriving half an hour late.

yamunaku (“be forced”), as in:

Byōin de kensa itashimashita tokoro ansei ni seyo to no koto de, yamunaku shuppatsu o miawasemashita.
I had just had a checkup and they warned me to take it easy, so I was forced to postpone my departure.

It’s not always advisable to lead off with an excuse, however. Suppose you have the bad luck to arrive late for a date—a severely regarded transgression. Your would-be companion is likely to be in a foul enough mood already, and for you to rattle off even a plausible excuse when you finally show up may well have the effect of trying to put out a fire with gasoline. Rather than trying straight-away to justify your lapse in punctuality, it would be much better to lead off with an apology:

Gomen nasai. Demo, semete jijō dake de mo kiite kurenai?
I’m sorry. But would you at least let me explain what happened?

Apologies having been made, even if not gleefully accepted, your best chance of salvaging the evening is probably to proceed very slowly—timidly—into an account of how, in spite of your best intentions, you were forced to be late.

– Source: A handbook of common Japanese phrases

How to express your doubt in Japanese

Nani ka chigau ‘n ja nai.
Something’s not quite right.

This is the sort of thing you might say to express doubt or dissatisfaction, to indicate that the situation has gotten mixed up or gone wrong somehow and all is not as it should be. The main part of the sentence, nani ka chigau (translated here as “something’s not right”) is conveniently vague; this expression is especially useful when it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem is. It is often used in preference to more definitive statements such as:

Sore wa machigatte iru.
That’s wrong.

The preference for vagueness, which applies to many other types of expressions as well, seems to be based on a common aversion to the risk involved in making stronger statements—especially contrary ones. If you use the expression sore wa machigatte iru, for example, you run the risk of directly offending someone, and at the least you’re likely to be put on the spot and have to justify your objections in detail, when someone else replies:

Sore de wa omae wa dō kangaeru n’ da.
Okay, then suppose you explain to us how you see the situation.

It is to avoid this very situation that people tend to stick to cracks like nani ka chigau n’ ja nai, which sound more impressionistic and don’t convey any strong message for which they might be held responsible. Suppose you encounter a couple out shopping, the woman trying to put together an outfit while the man looks on and tries to act helpful. You might hear the following exchange:

Kono iro to kono iro o kumiawaseru no wa dō?
What do you think, does this color go with this other color?

Uun, nani ka chigau na.
Hmm, something’s not quite right about it.

The man, who isn’t very taken with the combination of colors, avoids the possibility of hurting the woman’s feelings (she might like the combination) while implicitly suggesting that she keep looking.

Another example: a photographer is trying valiantly to get a model to pose in a manner suitable for the picture he needs. He tells her what he wants and she tries one pose after another, but none of them is quite on the mark. Tacitly, what the photographer wants to say is, “You really don’t have any idea what I’m looking for here, do you?” Ever the diplomatic professional, though, he actually says:

Dōmo chigau na.
I don’t know, something’s not right.

 These days one often hears a different expression used, particularly by young women, to express essentially the same meaning as those above:

Chotto hen.
Kind of weird.

This expression conveys a strong sense that the objection is more subjective than objective and thus not necessarily explainable in logical terms.

– Source: A handbook of common Japanese phrases

Japanese phrase for leaving someone’s house

Oya, mō konna jikan.
Oh, look at the time!

When you visit the home of a friend, it is generally left up to you as the guest to bring the visit to an end. One time-honored pretext for doing so is to remark on the lateness of the hour, for which purpose this expression works wonderfully. When you feel the time has come to be leaving, wait until the conversation begins to flag or some other convenient opening appears, then consult your watch or a clock and utter the magic words as you rise to go. According to the rules of politeness, this is the signal for your host to insist that it’s too soon to depart, saying something like:

Mada yoroshii ja arimasen ka.
You don’t have to leave already, do you?

You shouldn’t take this literally― your host is merely performing a role as required by courtesy. Besides, it’s considered very bad manners to overstay your welcome, so feel free to firmly resist the (ostensible) invitation to linger:

le ie, sukkari naga-i shite shimaimashita.
No, I’ve already imposed on your hospitality far too long.

Presuming there are no further politely forceful attempts to detain you (if there are—be strong!), you can prepare to take your leave, but first offer some appreciative comment, like:

Kyō wa totemo tanoshikatta desu.
I had a wonderful time today.

 Should you find yourself tiring of the old checking-your-watch routine, another other useful expression for signaling your imminent departure is:

そろそろおいとまを ……
Sorosoro oitoma o …
Well, I’d best be getting along.

There are more elaborately polite expressions that make use of the term itoma (“leave-taking,” here preceded by the honorific prefix o), some of which have been immortalized in rakugo routines and the like; you could really make an impression on your hosts if you were to say, for example:

Amari naga-i o itashimashite wa kaette gomewaku de gozaimasu kara, kore de oitoma o.
I would be imposing on you if I were to dawdle any longer, so I’d better be going.

 If you have been treated to a meal by your host and then decide that you have stayed just about as long as courtesy requires, you can make your departure in style with this somewhat antiquated bit of verbosity:

Itadaki-dachi de mōshiwake gozaimasen ga, sorosoro oitoma o.
I apologize for having to eat and run, but I’m afraid I have to be going.

As you say this, keep in mind that rude though it is to eat and run, it’s still worse to abuse your hosts’ hospitality by overstaying your welcome.

– Source: A handbook of common Japanese phrases

Some Japanese phrases to confirm information

念のためにお尋ねしますが ……
Nen no tame ni otazune shimasu ga …
Just to make sure I’ve got this right …

There’s never any harm in making sure. When you receive important information or instructions, it makes good sense to go over the essential points twice, even if you’re pretty sure you got it right the first time. There’s a ready-made phrase for this purpose:

念のためにお尋ねしますが ……
Nen no tame ni otazune shimasu ga …
Just to make sure I’ve got this right …

It’s particularly important to get repeat confirmation on easy-to-confuse items such as names, telephone numbers, dates and times, and figures and amounts—in fact, it’s a cardinal rule of business. Here’s how it’s done:

Nen no tame ni otazune shimasu ga, Shinjuku shiten de wa naku Shinbashi shiten desu ne.
Just to make sure I’ve got this right, it’s the Shinbashi branch and not the Shinjuku branch, right?


Nen no tame ni otazune shimasu ga, Tanaka-san ni denwa sureba yoroshii n’ desu ne.
Just to make sure I’ve got it straight, it’s Ms. Tanaka I’m supposed to call, right?

This is also a useful tactic to employ when you’re told something that doesn’t seem quite right. Maybe the other person misspoke or maybe you didn’t hear what you thought you heard; in any case, you can put your doubts to rest by requesting confirmation. For instance:

Nen no tame ni otazune shimasu ga, denwa ni wa watakushi-domo no Maekawa ga deta n’ desu ne?
Just to make sure I’ve understood, it was Mr. Maekawa from our staff who spoke to you on the phone, is that correct?

Nen no tame ni otazune shimasu ga, okaimotome ni natta no wa sangatsu nijuusan-nichi desu ne.
Just to make certain, the date of purchase was March 23, is that correct?

When you’re speaking to a valued customer, even if what she’s told you is utterly implausible (Mr. Maekawa retired two years ago and the store was closed for a national holiday on March 23), you can’t afford to alienate her by directly contradicting her version of events. By leading her through the doubtful details a second time, you can give her a chance to correct her own mistakes without having to offend her by pointing them out. Still, if she sticks to her dubious story, you may have to gently point out the inconsistencies. You can use one of these phrases to broach the issue:

私の思い違いかもしれませんが ……
Watakushi no omoichigai ka mo shiremasen ga …
It may be that I’m mistaken, but …

ちょっと気になる点があるのですが ……
Chotto ki ni naru ten ga aru no desu ga …
There’s one point that seems a bit curious …

– Source: A handbook of common Japanese phrases

How to express disagreement in business Japanese

Ossharu koto wa yoku wakarimasu.
I certainly appreciate what you’re saying.

Even if a client or customer has taken an utterly unreasonable position, you have to state your opposition in a way that minimizes the possibility of exacerbating the situation. One way of doing this is to start out by clearly acknowledging the other person’s point of view:

Ossharu koto wa yoku wakarimasu.
I certainly appreciate what you’re saying.

Okimochi wa yoku wakarimasu.
I definitely understand how you feel.

Tashika ni sono toori da to zonjimasu.
Without a doubt, it’s just as you’ve said.

Naruhodo okyaku-sama no ossharu koto wa gomottomo desu.
The situation is indeed just exactly as you’ve described it.

Whether or not you actually consider the other party’s viewpoint valid is an entirely different matter, of course, and one best kept private. The idea is to open with an ingratiating stroke aimed at putting the listener in a mood to entertain a different point of view. Pulling off a graceful transition into the latter is the second part of this one-two approach:

おっしゃることはよくわかります。ただ、私どもといたしましては ……
Ossharu koto wa yoku wakarimasu. Tada, watakushi-domo to itashimashite wa …
I certainly appreciate what you’re saying. It’s just that, speaking from our point of view …

お気持ちはよくわかります。たしかにそういう見方もございますが ……
Okimochi wa yoku wakarimasu. Tashika ni souiu mikata mo gozai-masu ga …
I definitely understand how you feel. That’s certainly one valid way to look at the situation, but …

Tashika ni sono toori da to zonjimasu. Tada, kouiu mikata mo aru no de wa nai deshou ka.
Without a doubt, it’s just as you’ve said. Only, I wonder whether it might not also be possible to look at it this way: …

Naruhodo okyaku-sama no ossharu koto wa gomottomo desu. Shikashi, kono you ni sasete itadakeba motto gomanzoku itadakeru no de wa nai deshou ka.
The situation is indeed just exactly as you’ve described it. And yet, it seems to me perhaps you might be even happier in the end if we were to handle it this way: …

If there’s a hint of flattery in your approach, all the better to prepare the way for your own position, the essence of which is to make what’s already good even better. The thing to remember is, you can avoid giving needless offense by withholding your own views until you’ve first paid the obligatory tribute to the other person’s ideas. Then, when you finally get around to your opinion, you can more or less casually mention your doubts or dissent. Here’s one more example:

Ohanashi o ukagatte taihen benkyou ni narimashita. Kihon-teki ni wa sansei desu ga, ni-san, kanjita koto o ohanashi shite yoroshii deshou ka.
What you’ve said is very enlightening. Basically, I agree with you, but there are just a couple of things I’d like to talk over, if I might.

– Source: A handbook of common Japanese phrases

Some interesting things about Japanese apology

Ikanaru tsugunai mo itasu tsumori de gozaimasu.
I’m prepared to do whatever is required to make amends.

This short sentence represents an extreme declaration of formal apology. The Japanese language is said by some to reflect a culture of apology, in the sense that the social act most fundamentally enshrined in the language seems to be the apology. Even the most ordinary transaction—asking for information or making a minor request—usually incorporates such standard phrases as sumimasen (“I’m sorry”) or osoreirimasu (“I beg your pardon”), expressions that, at least on a literal level, convey apology. You might say that the impact of such apologetic expressions has become diluted through overuse. As a result, when the primary purpose actually is to formally and earnestly apologize for something one has done, the language employed tends to be extreme. What’s more, people may literally get down on their knees or even prostrate themselves to demonstrate the sincerity of their words.

If you really want to reach back and humble yourself the way they do in samurai movies, you might try this (though you’ll probably have to explain it after having used it):

Nanae no hiza o yae ni orimashite, owabi itashimasu.
I beg your forgiveness on bended knee.

A literal translation of this standard expression will provide an idea of the extreme attitude it expresses. Nanae no hiza o yae ni orimashite means forcing one’s knees (which bend only in two) to bend seven ways (nanae) and then once more (yae, “eightfold”)—as if this were physiologically possible—from which decidedly uncomfortable position one offers one’s apology (owabi itashimasu).

Japanese society has long honored a sort of tacit understanding whereby a transgressor can effectively expiate his offense by making a sincere and sufficiently humble apology. In addition, a direct apology is considered the most reliable way to assuage the anger of the offended party. While both these functions have helped established the spoken apology as an essential social lubricant, it no longer necessarily holds the power it once did. These days, even the most sincere apology may be answered by a demand for complete financial compensation.

In the unfortunate event that you have caused an injury through your own negligence or carelessly started a fire that spread and damaged other people’s property, no apology will be sufficient to undo the harm. Nevertheless, by conscientiously making the most humble kind of apology, you can at least demonstrate your sincere regret, and that is perhaps the first point to address. Should you commit the sort of offense that affects another person’s reputation—calling off the wedding after the invitations have been sent out, for instance—be prepared to grovel your way through an apology that will surely be a once-in-a-lifetime lesson in public humility.

– Source: A handbook of common Japanese phrases

How to say “Sorry” in Japanese

Osawagase itashimashita.
I’m sorry about all the fuss.

As you might expect in a language that offers so many occasions for apology, there are many different ways to apologize. Just which way is appropriate in a given situation depends on a number of factors, the first of which is the identity of the person you’re apologizing to. For example, take the familiar form

Gomen nasai.

This is a perfectly appropriate way to apologize to someone in your family, a close friend, or a child. It would be a serious breach of etiquette and imply a lack of common sense, however, to use this form with one of your elders or a superior at work. In that case you would probably best be advised to say:

Moushiwake arimasen deshita.
Please accept my apologies.

If you make a mistake at work or somehow cause trouble for someone who is not part of your immediate circle, this type of apology will probably be appropriate. Later, once the dust has settled and the mistake has been rectified or the trouble resolved, you’ll probably have an opportunity to say you’re sorry once again—to perform a sort of follow-up apology. For that purpose, the form at the beginning of this section, osawagase itashimashita, is an excellent choice.

 Let’s compare osawagase itashimashita with a similar form that is often used in the same way:

Gomeiwaku o okake shimashita.
I apologize for causing you so much trouble.

Either form could be used for a follow-up apology. Generally speaking, though, osawagase itashimashita tends to be used when there really wasn’t too much harm done or serious trouble caused in the first place. Gomeiwaku o okake shimashita, on the other hand, is more often used when the original matter was serious enough to possibly have a more lasting impact—when the water might not have all flowed under the bridge yet. Thus, you might consider three grades of apologies for circumstances like these: the first and most weighty is moushiwake arimasen deshita; the second, not quite so grave, is gomeiwaku o okake shimashita; and the third and least somber is osawagase itashimashita. It’s probably safe to use the latter expression if the person you’re apologizing to seems glad to put the incident behind her. If you’re lucky, your apology may even draw a smile.

– Source: A handbook of common Japanese phrases

How to say “Thank you” in Japanese

Goshinsetsu ni, tasukarimashita.
You’ve been a great help. It was very kind of you.

If, as most speakers would probably agree, the most frequently used expression of gratitude in contemporary Japanese is arigatou goza-imasu (“Thank you”), then these are perhaps the next most commonly heard words of thanks. (Actually, as in the example below, the two expressions are frequently used in combination.) More so than arigatou gozaimasu, however, this phrase conveys a feeling of indebtedness. When another person has done you a favor at your own request or has simply provided a helping hand out of the goodness of her heart, this is the phrase to use. Equally useful are such variants as:

Goshinsetsu ni arigatou gozaimashita. Okagesama de tasukarimashita.
Thank you very much for your kindness. All’s well now, thanks to you.

 It should be stressed that these words convey a sense of gratitude more emphatic than you’d ordinarily show, say, to the waitress who brings you your coffee. Rather, this is the sort of thing you might say to a stranger who takes the trouble to give you explicit directions when you’re lost, or who hurries after you to return the wallet you dropped unknowingly, or who volunteers to help you carry something heavy, or who rescues you from a drunken boor on the train. Naturally, the kindness of others is never so keenly appreciated as when it is needed most, and at such times it is important to make an appropriately elaborate—and sincere—demonstration of thanks.

Occasions may arise when some kind soul helps you out of a really tight spot and words simply aren’t sufficient to communicate the depth of your gratitude. Imagine that a complete stranger has found your missing handbag and brought it to your home, with all the contents intact. In such a case, words of thanks delivered on the spot just aren’t enough, so you might ask how to reach the person at his home:

Douka, onamae to gojuusho o okikase kudasai.
Would you be so kind as to give me your name and your address?

You can then make a proper show of thanks by calling on your benefactor the very next day, usually bearing a small (and often edible) token of your gratitude.

The same course of action would be called for if, for example, you lost your wallet and a passerby lent you the train fare home. In this case, the kindly stranger might well decline the customary elaborate show of gratitude, saying something like:

Iya, nanoru hodo no mono de wa arimasen.
Look, it’s no big thing (not important enough to take credit for).

At this point, the only gracious thing to do is to accept the favor gratefully and, with a solemn bow, sincerely state your thanks:

Goshinsetsu wa wasuremasen.
I won’t forget your kindness.

 When the person lending you a hand or doing you a favor is an acquaintance, rather than a stranger or passerby, it’s considered appropriate to express your thanks with the words:

Itsumo osewa ni narimasu.
I’m forever in your debt.

This expression is, however, perilously similar to the ubiquitous phrase Itsumo osewa ni natte orimasu, the formulaic phrase with which neighbors politely thank one another for being neighbors or business people greet their patrons and suppliers over the telephone, so a good deal of care should be taken to make it sound truly grateful rather than perfunctory.

– Source: A handbook of common Japanese phrases

How Japanese people react to praise

Ojouzu ne.
You’re just being polite.

Virtually every student of Japanese encounters the term jouzu (used above, as is generally the case, with the honorific prefix o) quite early on. Usually, it’s used as a compliment or an expression of approval and refers to something done skillfully or to a skillful person. Thus, the immortal line also encountered early on by virtually anyone who can mangle a word or two of Japanese:

Nihongo ga ojouzu desu ne.
Your Japanese is quite good.

Obviously, the usage of ojouzu in this sense is not governed by strict standards of sincerity or accuracy. The synonymous term umai is employed in just the same manner, and with just as little compunction.

Compare this essentially standard usage of ojouzu with its usage in the following exchange, between a native speaker and a student of Japanese:

Anata no nihongo wa bokutachi yori umai na.
You speak Japanese better than we do.

Maa, ojouzu ne.
You’re just being polite.

Here, ojouzu refers ironically to the first speaker’s tactful words. The effect is of an oblique but effectively modest dismissal of base flattery. A slightly less respectful-sounding expression that is otherwise similar both in meaning and usage is:

Kuchi ga umai.
You smooth talker (that’s nonsense).

There are several other standard expressions that play on the term jouzu. Two of them,

ojouzu o iu
To flatter

jouzu o tsukau
To lay it on thick

are similar to those discussed above—they connote the action of using words to curry favor with, fawn upon, or even grovel before someone. For example, the following response to unwarranted words of praise:

Mata sonna, ojouzu bakari osshatte.
This again. Stop trying to butter me up.

 Sometimes the adverse reaction is elicited not merely by false praise but by the presumption of some ulterior motivation on the part of the other party. The term ojouzu-gokashi connotes self-interested behavior masquerading as kindness. This sort of conniving pretense—also called otame-gokashi—is typified by honey-tongued efforts to persuade someone to take an action that will ostensibly be to his advantage but in reality will benefit the persuader. Such efforts may be dismissed thus:

Yamete, ojouzu-gokashi wa takusan yo.
Enough! You’re just trying to use me to feather your own nest.

– Source: A handbook of common Japanese phrases