Japanese Insults: Insults and Being Rude in Japanese

Japan has a reputation for being an extremely polite and formal country. On the surface the culture seems very hospitable – but what about when it isn’t? Like any other language, there are Japanese insults and ways to be rude in Japanese.

This article is primarily concerned with helping Japanese learners avoid being rude or insulting. So this article will cover primarily what you DON’T want to say.

How to Avioid Insulting Someone in Japanese

In Japanese, merely not being respectful is enough to insult someone in many instances. An improper suffix or a statement that is just a little too direct could be intepreted as an insult. Especially in navigating Japanese professional work culture, these are the types of slip ups you want to avoid.

Essentially, you want to be conscious of 3 things to not be insulting:

Appropriate Keigo

If you aren’t familiar with Japanese Keigo, you can check out a more extensive article here. In a nutshell, you want to make sure you are speaking at an appropriate level based on the situation and who you are speaking to.

Speaking too informally to a superior, a boss, or a customer is insulting in Japan. So make sure you are speaking politely, and you will be able to avoid insulting anyone!

Example of Insulting Speech: Informal Speaking


Buchou: Tanaka-san! Kyou mo zangyou shite moraouka?
Tanaka-san: Nandayo, zangyou suruwake ne jan
Buchou: Kubi da!

Manager: Tanaka-san! Can you work overtime again today?
Tanaka-san: What? No way am I doing overtime today
Manager: FIRED!

Okay this might be a bit of an extreme example, but it gets the point across. Tanaka-san’s language is totally informal and impolite, but it probably wouldn’t get him fired. Maybe.

Needless to say, this way of speaking is very insulting and would most definitely result in some negative way for Mr. Tanaka.

Avoid this with an appropriate response that utilizes sufficient Keigo.

Being too Direct

Being too direct in the way you say something can also be insulting or rude. And we don’t want that…unless…but no, nevermind.

This is something cultural that some non-native Japanese speakers may struggle with at some points, especially for those coming from a western background.

In the West especially, it is not only welcomed but encouraged to express yourself and speak your mind directly. In Japan it is often the opposite.

In Japanese, being indirect shows respect, and it also makes things intentionally vague so as not to insinuate any fault of the listener. This is part of why passive and intransitive verbs are used so much more often in Japanese as opposed to English.

Example of Insulting Speech: Being too Direct


Buchou: Tanaka-san, kono uriage jisseki no repo-to ashita made owarasetemoraeru?
Tanaka-san: Ashita made desu ka? Motto hayaka ittekudasai!
Buchou: Kubi da!

Manager: Tanaka-san, can you finish this sales report by tomorrow?
Tanaka-san: Tomorrow?!? You need to tell me sooner!
Manager: FIRED!

In the above example, Tanaka-san may have used appropriate keigo. However, his manner of speaking is much too direct for a subordinate speaking to his boss. Maybe some people in the west can get away with it at work, but probably not in Japan.

You want to avoid sounding this direct, especially with people above you or strangers. However, being direct is not necessarily impolite amongst friends.

Insulting Vocabulary in Japanese

We have compiled a list of some insulting vocabulary and crass words that you definitely don’t want to use. You may hear these in anime, movies, or TV shows – but generally you should avoid using them.

List of Japanese Insults

  • どけ! → ”Move!” (Imperative)
  • だまれ! → ”Shut up!” (lit. “be silent”)
  • あほ → ”Idiot”
  • ばか → Also “Idiot”
  • ぼけ → ”Idiot”, again (airhead would also work)
  • ぶす → ”Ugly”
  • でぶ → ”Fat”
  • がき → ”Brat”
  • てめえ → This is a really rude way to say “You”

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