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I can assure you that I am not a fox spirit…

While many of you will be familiar with the Japanese tradition of answering the phone “moshi moshi” few of you know the rationale behind this salutation. This post is dedicated to revealing the rationale behind this custom

For centuries, the shogunate kept the nation in an artificial state of stagnation. Even after the Meiji reformation, the introduction of western technology was met with suspicion born of superstition…

Japanese mythology is filled with tales of shape shifting fox spirits- the kitusne. Their cunning was well established, and led many to woe. While a wary person might see through their ruse by observing their fox tail, this was impossible to determine over a phone, and many refused to use that untrustworthy device until a lorewise obaasan recalled that by tradition, the kitsune were unable to pronounce the word “moshi”

The biblically inclined among you may recall the shibboleth; this is a similar challenge which allowed the cautious Nihonjin to ascertain that they were in fact speaking to a real person, as opposed to a malicious fox spirit

I was delighted to learn the origin of this tradition, and to this day I will often answer the phone by saying “Let me assure you that I definitely am not a fox spirit…” which is the literal (although not brute force) translation of moshi moshi

While this confuses all but the most otaku of my callers, that isn’t a problem for me. I am happy to explain it in much the same way I just did, but am just as happy to leave them confused. Back before caller ID I used to just answer the phone in the traditional Japanese way, so I could continue to speak Nihongo to anyone who I didn’t feel like talking to, but that is another story…


What do you think?


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