What Does Moshi Moshi Mean in Japanese? Does It Really Mean “Hello?”

Using もしもし (Moshi Moshi): Saying Hello on the Phone

In Japan, もしもし (moshi moshi) is commonly used when some answers the phone. It is equivalent to saying “hello” in English.  However, moshi moshi is only used over the phone.

もしもし is one of the first Japanese expressions many students learn. Anytime you answer the phone in Japan, you can do so by saying “moshi moshi.”

Example:

*ring ring* (phone ringing)

健: もしもし  
Ken: (Moshi moshi.) 
Ken: Hello?

春樹: あ、もしもし。俺だけど 、今何してる? 
Haruki: (A, moshi moshi. Ore dakedo, ima nani shiteru?)  
Haruki: Ah, hello. It’s me. What are you doing now?

Another Use of Moshi Moshi: Checking if Someone is Still on the Line

もしもし (moshi moshi) can also be used if your conversation is breaking up or difficult to hear. Saying moshi moshi in this situation is to see if the other person is still on the line or to check if they can hear you or not.  

Let’s take a look at an example continuing the conversation above.  

Example:  

健: もしもし  
Ken: (Moshi moshi.)  
Ken:  Hello.

春樹: あ、もしもし。俺だけど、今何してる?  
Haruki: (A, moshi moshi. Ore dakedo, ima nani shiteru?)  
Haruki: Ah, hello, it’s me. What are you doing now?

健: え? もしもし? 聞こえないんだけど 
Ken: (E? Moshi moshi? Kikoenain dakedo.)  
Ken: What? Hello? I can’t hear you.

春樹: あれ? 今聞こえる? もしもし?  
Haruki: (Are? Ima kikoeru? Moshi moshi?
Haruki: Huh? Can you hear me now? Hello?

健: あ、聞こえた。 
Ken: (A, kikoeta.
Ken: Ah, okay, I can hear you now.

When to NOT Use もしもし (Moshi Moshi)

Even though moshi moshi means “hello,” it is generally only used on the phone. You can’t use it as a greeting when talking to people face to face. There are many ways to say hello to people in Japanese, like saying こんにちは (konnichiwa), おはようございます(ohayō gozaimasu), or even casual ways like どうも (dōmo).  

Although this is widely used by Japanese people of all ages, it is not recommended to use it in business settings. In business situations, you would answer the phone by stating your company’s name, followed by your name. You’ll also do this when you call someone for business.  

Why Should Moshi Moshi (もしもし) Not be Used in Business Settings?

You may wonder why moshi moshi is considered inappropriate in business settings. Since moshi moshi originated from a humble, polite word, you may think it’s suitable for formal conversations. However, using moshi moshi is now considered a casual expression, which makes it inappropriate for businesses to use.   

Businesses in Japan need to be very formal and polite, so using a casual expression like moshi moshi with their customers or partners may come off as unprofessional or even rude.  

Other Uses of もしもし (Moshi Moshi)

Some people may use moshi moshi to get someone’s attention. This can be friends who aren’t paying attention to you or strangers on the street.   

If you are talking with your friend and they are ignoring you, you could say, “moshi moshi?” to mean “Hello? Are you paying attention?”

Some people also use this to get the attention of a stranger. If you see someone accidentally drop something, you could get their attention by saying, “moshi moshi.” In this case, moshi moshi is said to replace someone’s name (or a title). It is equivalent to “Hey, ma’am” or “Hey, sir” in English.    

However, it is much more common and polite to say すみません (sumimasen), which means “excuse me,” when you want to get someone’s attention.  

Example:

マイク: あの、もしもし。何か落とされましたよ。どうぞ、これ 。
Maiku: (Ano, moshi moshi. Nanika otosaremashita yo. Dōzo, kore)  
Mike: Um, hello. You dropped something. Here you are.

華: ああ、気が付きませんでした。ありがとうございます。
Hana: (Aa, ki ga tsukimasen deshita. Arigatō gozaimasu.)  
Hana: Oh, I didn’t notice. Thank you very much.

The History of もしもし (Moshi Moshi)

What’s the origin of moshi moshi? There are several theories. The most widely accepted explanation is this: 

Around 100 years ago, when telecommunication was first introduced to Japan, telephone operators connected callers to the person they wanted to contact.  

These operators were using the expression “申します (moushimasu)” to relay the call. This is a humble form of the verb 言う (iu), which means “to tell or to say.” Due to the poor connection they had back then, they used to say “moushimasu” twice.

The shortened form of this is “申し (mōshi) “or “申す (mōsu),” which eventually evolved into “moshi moshi.” 

Moshi moshi is written only in hiragana, even though the origin of this word came from kanji (申します). And since this expression is a Japanese word without any foreign roots, katakana is not used. 

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