Japan is known for its polite phrases to use when calling businesses, organizations, and people whom you don’t know personally. When we’re talking to friends, however, we want to laugh, have fun, and enjoy each other’s company. By using casual speech when talking to friends on the phone, we can relax and strengthen the bonds of our relationships.    

JapaneseRomajiMeaning
もしもしMoshi-MoshiHello!
電話をするDenwa wo suruTo call (someone) on the phone
電話に出るDenwa ni deruTo answer the phone
かけ直すKake-naosuTo call (someone) back
充電がない (少ない)Juuden ga nai (sukunai)I have no (low) battery
電波がない (悪い)Denpa ga nai (warui)I have no (a bad) signal
じゃねJa neGoodbye!
How to call in Japanese – Phone Call
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7 useful phrases for talking to friends on the phone in Japanese.

1. もしもし Moshi-Moshi – Hello!

It’s summer, you’re in Tokyo, and you’re wearing a yukata. You’re supposed to meet your friend Ayaka to see the famous Sumidagawa fireworks at 7:00pm, but she is late. What should you do? Your phone starts buzzing, and you pick it up to see that it’s Ayaka. You hit the green “answer” button. 

Moshi-Moshi?” you say.

Moshi-Moshi can also be used if you want to make sure the other person is still on the line. Sometimes the signal is poor, someone’s battery runs out, or they hang up accidentally.

Moshi-Moshi! Are you still there? Moshi-Moshi!

When saying this, some people clip the last “I”, and it sounds more like  “Moshi-Moshhh!” Ayaka might say it this way too. You, however, can say it whichever way you want, but, as with all foreign languages, until you get a good feel for the language, err on the side of most conventional to avoid confusion.

2. 電話をする Denwa wo suru – To call (someone) on the phone 

“Denwa” is the Japanese word for “phone.” “Denwa wo suru” literally translates to “do the phone,” but in Japanese it means “to call (someone).”

If you want to tell Ayaka that you will call her, you say:

電話をする (Denwa wo suru). 

Suru” is the dictionary/casual form of “to do.” In a business situation, you would conjugate “suru” to the more politeshimasu,  but we don’t need to worry about that now since we’re talking to friends.

If you want to say that you called (past tense) Ayaka, you say:

電話をした (Denwa wo shita).

Shita” is the casual form of “shimashita

Here is an example of how you can use this with Ayaka on the phone at the fireworks show:

(Phone rings)

YOU: Moshi-Moshi?
AYAKA: Moshi-Moshhh.
YOU: Ima doko? Denwa wo shita kedo detenai. (Where are you? I called you, but you didn’t pick up.)

BONUS: If want someone to call you, you say:

(後で) 電話をしてね ([Ato de] denwa wo shite ne.)
“Call me!”

3. 電話に出る Denwa ni deru – To answer the phone

Deru” means “to go out” or “to appear (e.g. on TV).” This literally translates to “phone goes out,” which sounds strange, but it is a common phrase in Japanese meaning “to answer the phone.”

If you want to say, “I answered the phone,” you say:

Boku wa denwa ni deta.” (“Boku” is a casual way of saying “watashi,” or “I.” Deta” is the past tense casual form of “deru.”)

If you want to say, “I didn’t answer the phone,” you say:

Boku wa denwa ni detenai.” (“Detenai” is the negative form of the verb meaning “did not [do something.]”) 

In the situation above, you called Ayaka, but she didn’t answer her phone. You said:

Ima doko? Denwa wo shita kedo detenai.”

NOTE: Here, you don’t need to repeat “denwa” a second time.

4. かけ直す Kake-naosu – To call (someone) back

Of course Ayaka isn’t ignoring your calls. She didn’t pick up when you called for a reason. You two are at one of the biggest fireworks shows in the country! There are people everywhere, and when it’s crowded, it’s hard to talk on the phone. Therefore, when you tell her that you called and she didn’t pick up, she responds like this:

Ima chotto hito ga konderu ne. Kakenaoshite ii?” (It’s a little crowded right now. Can I call you back?)

In this situation, she conjugates “kakenaosu” into the -te form (like “Tabete kudasai” [Please eat]). Then, she follows “kakenaoshite” with “ii” (good) in order to ask permission.

If you want to say, “Call me back,” you say:

Kakenaoshite.

So, here is our phone conversation so far:

YOU: Moshi-Moshi?
AYAKA: Moshi-Moshhh.
YOU: Ima doko? Denwa wo shita kedo detenai.
AYAKA: Ima chotto hito ga konderu ne. Kakenaoshite ii?


5. 充電がない (少ない) Juuden ga nai (sukunai) – I have no (low) battery

We’ve all experienced it before. We’ve been out all day and haven’t had a chance to recharge our phone battery. At the fireworks show, you notice that you have wound up in this situation as well. Ayaka can’t call you back because you are low on battery.

Ima juuden ga sukunai kara message okuru ne.” (I’m low on battery now, so I’ll send you a message.)

You can substitute “message” with the texting app name you’re using. In Japan, we commonly call and send texts through an app called LINE. So, in a more realistic situation, instead of “message okuru” (send a message), we would just say “LINE suru” (I’ll LINE you).

YOU: Moshi-Moshi?
AYAKA: Moshi-Moshhh.
YOU: Ima doko? Denwa wo shita kedo detenai.
AYAKA: Ima chotto hito ga konderu ne. Kakenaoshite ii?
YOU: Ima juuden ga sukunai kara message okuru ne.


6. 電波がない (悪い) Denpa ga nai (warui) – I have no (a bad) signal

And, of course, there’s always the situation where you’re in a crowded or rural area of the country and the signal cuts in and out randomly. This makes it impossible to have a productive conversation. Therefore, it might not be that you have low battery at the fireworks show, you may just have a bad signal. As with the previous case, it’s better to just text.

Ima denpa ga wari kara message okuru ne.” (I have bad signal now, so I’ll send you a message.)

7. じゃね Ja ne: Goodbye!

In English-speaking countries, it’s customary to say “Goodbye” at the end of a phone call not only as a salutation, but also to signify that you are about to hang up the phone. When speaking in Japanese, it can be confusing to know whether the person on the other line knows that the conversation has ended and you’re about to hang up. You may even be tempted to say “Sayonara” (Goodbye), but this is not a common thing to say when hanging up the phone (unless you’re saying goodbye to the person forever!). 

In business settings “Shitsurei shimasu” is common to say before hanging up. With friends, however, you can say a number of things: 

Mata kondo ne” (See you next time)

Yoroshiku ne” (*said if your friend will be doing you a favor later or helping you out in some way*) 

In Ayaka and your case at the fireworks show, however, you have low battery, and it’s not an actual goodbye, just a transition from phone to text. Therefore, you could just leave it at this:

Ja ne!(Goodbye/See ya!)

So, here is our completed phone conversation between Ayaka and you:

YOU: もしもし?
AYAKA: もしもし。
YOU: 今どこ? 電話をしたけど出てない。
AYAKA: 今ちょっと人が混んでるね。かけ直していい?
YOU: 今充電が少ないからメッセージ送るね。
AYAKA: わかった!
YOU: じゃね。
YOU: Moshi-Moshi?
AYAKA: Moshi-Moshhh.
YOU: Ima doko? Denwa wo shita kedo detenai.
AYAKA: Ima chotto konderu ne. Kakenaoshite ii?
YOU: Ima juuden ga sukunai kara message okuru ne.
AYAKA: Wakatta! (Okay!)
YOU: “Ja ne!”

Of course there are many phrases to use on the phone when talking to friends, but these are the most important ones. Try some of them out next time on a Japanese person and see if they work! You’ll be so thrilled when they do!

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed today’s lesson!

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