“Moshi-moshi. Kochira wa Japan Taimuzu no Shuraibaa to moshimasu. Itsumo wo sewa ni natte orimasu” (“Hello, this is Schreiber of the Japan Times. Thanks as always for your kind support.”)
In a world where good manners and decorum are vanishing almost as fast as the polar icecap, Japan is one country where proper telephone courtesy is still practiced, especially in the business environment.
Armed with my dog-eared copy of the “Japan Yellow Pages,” I’ve made zillions of cold calls to government and corporate offices and obtained the information I needed. Granted, I have a rasping voice and speak with a gaikokujin no namari (foreign accent), but I make a point of using proper phrases to put the person I’m calling at ease.
Business-related calls generally demand the use of honorifics, and this requires some rote memorization and probably pronunciation drills. Fortunately, however, learning a dozen or so standard phrases will get you through most situations.
First, obviously, identify yourself and state the purpose of your call. If you’re calling a company’s 0120 furi daiyaru (toll-free) number, have your reason rehearsed in advance, e.g., “I am calling from Maebashi City, where I just purchased a box of your Krunchy Kornflakes and it’s crawling with mealworms.”
If you wish to speak to a certain Mr. Sato that works in a big office, it’s better to add his first name — say Hiroshi — so you would ask, “Sato Hiroshi-sama irasshaimasu ka? (Is Mr. Hiroshi Sato there?).”
Perhaps the section or person you’re calling has a chokutsu bango (direct dial number). If you go through the main switchboard the operator might ask, “Okyakusama wa?” or “Dochira sama desho ka? (May I ask who’s calling?).” You reply with your affiliation and surname, followed by to moshimasu (speaking). The response is likely to be, “Ima omawashi itashimasu node, shosho omachi kudasai (Please wait, I’ll transfer you).”
If you are asked “Goyoken wa nan desho ka? (What is the purpose of your call?),” you can explain, or simply say, “Kojinteki no koto desu (It’s a personal matter).”
Say you get put right through, only to be told, “Taihen osoreirimasu ga . . . (I’m very sorry but . . .)” followed by explanations like:
* “Chotto mada kaisha ni dete orimasen (He hasn’t come in yet).”
* “Taidaima denwachu desu . . . (He’s on the other line).”
* “Ima chotto seki wo hazushite orimasu ga. . . (He’s not at his desk now).” This means he’s come to work but not visible to the speaker.
* “Honjitsu wa oyasumi wo totte orimasu (He’s off today).”
* “Ima dete orimashite, honjitsu wa modoranai yotei desu (He’s left and probably won’t be coming back to the office).”
* “Honjitsu wa mo kaerimashita (He’s already left for the day).”
A helpful colleague might offer, “Orikashi denwa wo sasemasho ka? (Shall I have him call you back?)” to which you can respond, “Iie, nochi hodo aratamete denwa itashimasu (No, I’ll call back later).”
Or you can request that you be called by saying, “Daiji na yoken desu node, daishikyu denwa wo itadakitai no desu ga (It’s an important matter, so I’d like him to return my call urgently).” When you give your number, note that zero should be pronounced as either “rei” or “zero,” and never as “oh.” Four is always pronounced “yon” since its other reading, “shi,” can easily be mistaken for shichi (seven).
If you didn’t get through the first time and are calling back, you can say, “Tabi-tabi sumimasen (Sorry to keep bothering you),” and then take it from there. If the person has been transferred to a new department and you’re informed of his or her new number, read it back to confirm you’ve heard correctly, by saying, “Kurikashimasu or fukusho shimasu (let me repeat that),” followed by the number. A few old-fashioned people might still use the words shigai bango (city code, e.g., Tokyo zero san) or kyoku (exchange).
Finally, it is very important to also end the conversation politely. You might say, “Sore dewa, yoroshiku (Please remember me),” and when you hear the other party say “Shitsurei itashimasu” (which in this particular case means, “I’m going to hang up now”), That’s your cue to repeat the same.
Proper telephone etiquette will win favor with the denwa toban, the person delegated to answer the phone and relay calls. This in turn can help you cut through red tape to get things done faster — and with less confusion and frustration.