13 Ways to Say Ugly in Japanese

Language is a reflection of culture, and Japanese is no exception. In Japanese, expressing beauty is an art, with a rich vocabulary to describe various levels of attractiveness. However, it’s equally important to know how to convey the opposite: ugliness. 

In this article, we’ll explore the nuanced ways to say “ugly” in Japanese and delve into the cultural subtleties of when to use these words and how appropriate they are. Keep reading to use these words like a native! 

The Ugly Side

There are 3 straightforward ways to say “ugly” in Japanese, and then there are a variety of indirect jabs and implications. Some describe physical appearance, while others are used for actions or moral wrongdoings or share a combination of these meanings.

Today, we’ll go over 13 ways to tell someone you think they’re unattractive—either their physical looks or their personality.  

1. 醜い (Minikui): Ugly

One of the most direct ways to convey “ugly” in Japanese is 醜い (minikui). This term describes something as unattractive or aesthetically displeasing. The bluntness of this word makes what you’re trying to say very clear, with no room for confusion.

The famous story “The Ugly Duckling” is called みにくいアヒルの子 (Minikui ahiru no ko) in Japanese.  

Usage:  It can describe both people and objects, physical appearance, and actions. Younger people tend to use this less as it’s quite heavy.

Nuance: it is slightly more formal and carries a darker and more shameful nuance than other words for ugly. 


(Sono shatsu, sugoku minikui ne.)
That shirt is so ugly.

2. 不細工 (Busaiku): Ugly, Clumsy

Another common word to express “ugly” is 不細工 (busaiku). This term is more colloquial and can describe both people and things. While lighter than 醜い (minikui), this word is definitely still offensive. 

Usage: Unlike 醜い (minikui), 不細工 (busaiku) can’t be used to describe actions and is mainly used for appearance. It can apply to people, animals, or objects. People of all ages use this. 

Nuance: Being more casual, it carries a slightly softer tone than 醜い (minikui) but still conveys the idea of unattractiveness effectively.


(Ano tatemono wa dō mite mo busaiku janai?)
Isn’t that building ugly, no matter how you look at it? 

3. ブス (Busu): Hideous, Unattractive

Usually written in katakana, ブス (busu) is a very straightforward and casual way to offhandedly tell someone you think they’re ugly. 

Usage: ブス (busu) used to be used mainly for women, but nowadays, it’s also used for men. It’s not usually used for animals or objects. 

Nuance: Since ブス (busu) is closer to slang, it’s considered much more impolite than 醜い (minikui) or 不細工 (busaiku) and is quite offensive. 


(Aitsu, busu janai kedo, maji de seikaku warui yo ne.)
He’s not hideous, but he’s got a terrible personality.

4. キモい (Kimoi): Gross, Nasty

A common way to say that something grosses or creeps you out. This can also be used to say something grosses you out because of its appearance.  

Usage: On the other hand, teenagers and young people use this often and lightly and jokingly among friends, so there’s a balance to strike depending on who you’re with and what situation it is. 

Nuance:  A shortened version of 気持ち悪い (kimochi warui), or “disgusting,” kimoi is very casual and quite rude. It often refers to more than just physical appearance and can carry a deeper sting. 


(Sō iu jōdan wa kimoi kara, yametoita hō ga yoi yo.)
That kind of joke is disgusting, so you should stop it.

5. 不快 (Fukai): Unpleasant

When something or someone is not only unattractive but also causes discomfort or displeasure, the word 不快 (fukai) comes into play. It implies a sense of unease or unpleasantness related to the perceived ugliness.

Usage: This word can also be used for any situation or item causing discomfort, such as an itchy sweater.

Nuance: This is not casual and can be used in formal situations since it goes beyond just looks.

If you wanted to describe someone as ugly with this word, a good indirect way would be to say their face is unpleasant—or あんたの顔が不快だ (Anta no kao ga fukai da). It’s akin to saying, “I hate your face” or “Your face displeases me” in English. 


(Kare no iikata wa totemo fukai datta.) 
His choice of words was very unpleasant.

Ugly Using the Negative Form of Adjectives

Here are a few ways to call someone ugly by using the negative form of i and na-adjectives.

6. かっこわるい (Kakko Warui): Uncool, Lame

The opposite of かっこいい (kakkoii), or cool. 

Usage:  Can be used to describe both appearance and action. You can also say かっこよくない (kakko yokunai), which is more commonly used for someone’s appearance

Nuance: This is much more casual and might be less offensive since you’re not directly calling someone hideous. 


(Kare wa ikemen ja nai kedo, kakkowarui to omotta koto mo nakatta.)
He’s not a hottie, but I’ve also never thought of him as lame.

7. 美しくない (Utsukushikunai): Not Beautiful

This is the negative form of the adjective 美しい (utsukushii), which means “beautiful.”  

Usage: This is often used for things rather than people but can describe both. People of all ages use this.

Nuance:  美しくない (utsukushikunai) is more indirect and less insulting than some of the other words on our list, so it can be used in formal situations such as work. That being said, it’s still not a compliment, so use it with care.


(Utsukushikunai kōdō o toritakunai.)
I don’t want to act in a way that isn’t beautiful. / I don’t want to participate in ugly behavior. 

8. 綺麗じゃない (Kirei Janai): Not Pretty

Since the reading of 綺麗 (kirei) can also mean clean in Japanese, it can be somewhat confusing to use this phrase.

Usage:  Can be used by anyone to describe both people and things. It is not used for actions or behaviors. 

Nuance:  Similar to 美しくない (utsukushikunai), it’s a more polite way to describe something not aesthetically pleasing than some of the more direct words, such as 不細工 (busaiku).


(Sono ko, amari kirei janai yo ne.)
That girl isn’t very pretty.

9. 可愛くない (Kawaikunai): Not Cute

This is the negative form of the well-known word 可愛い (kawaii), which means “cute.”  

Usage:  可愛くない (kawaikunai) describes physical appearance and actions and is quite commonly used for both. It can be used for things, people, or animals.

Nuance:  Since it is casual, 可愛くない (kawaikunai) is used more commonly by younger people. It’s very casual and not super offensive— unless you are pointedly describing someone’s facial features.


(Ogotte yatta no ni, orei mo iwanai. Aitsu, gachi de kawaikunai wa.)
Even though I paid for him, he didn’t say thank you. He’s so not cute

Indirect Ways to Say Ugly

Here are some ways to call something or someone ugly without actually saying it’s ugly directly.

10. 顔が残念 (Kao Ga Zannen): You Have an Unfortunate Face

Suppose you ever wanted to give someone a backhanded compliment. In that case, you might say they have a good personality but an unfortunate face: 

(Ano hito seikaku wa ii kedo, kao ga zannen nan dayo ne.)
That person has a good personality but not a good face.  

This expression can also be flipped around and said this way:

残念な顔 (zannen na kao): an “unfortunate/disappointing” face

Usage: This can be used by anyone, young or old. It’s a more “polite” way to say ugly than ブス (busu) or 不細工 (busaiku).

Nuance: While not outright calling someone ugly, the meaning you’re trying to convey is still quite clear, so it can be offensive. With close friends, it can be a funny insult. 


(Kare, zannen na kao shiteiru kara ne.)
It’s because he has such an “unfortunate face.” 

11. ちょっと…(Chotto) / あまり…(Amari) : That’s a Bit…

This is as indirect as it gets. Use it when you want to say someone is ugly but don’t want to use any offensive words. 

Since “that’s a bit…” can mean so many different things in Japanese depending on context, it can be difficult to use if you are a beginner. The best usage might be as an answer, for if someone asks you if you think someone else is attractive. 

In that case, it might amount to “he’s not really my type.”

Usage: This is used by virtually all native Japanese speakers to avoid saying things directly.

Nuance:  This is probably the most indirect way to say that someone is “unattractive” without actually saying they are ugly. It is a very common Japanese response to questions they don’t want to outright reject or agree with.  


ジェニファー: ティムのこと、どう思う?
Jenifā: (Tim no koto, dō omou?)
Jennifer: What do you think about Tim?

アンナ: 彼はちょっと…
Anna: (Kare wa chotto…)
Anna: He’s a bit… (unattractive, weird, etc.)  

12. ブサカワ (Busakawa): Ugly-Cute

Fun fact: there’s a word for “ugly cute” in Japanese, and it’s quite a popular genre. There are whole lines of animated characters and dolls that are “ugly cute,” or ブサカワ (busakawa) —a combination of the words 不細工 (busaiku), meaning “ugly” and 可愛い (kawaii), meaning “cute.”  

Usage: This word is used often used for objects (dolls, characters, etc.) or things like animals (dogs, cats, etc.)

Nuance: This word is used my young people and gives off a nuance that something is slightly cute, espeically when used for animals (like a pug dog).


(Saikin sa, busakawa nuigurumi ga hayatteiru yo ne.)
Aren’t ugly-cute dolls really popular these days? 

13. 醜悪 (Shuuaku): Heinous, Horrid

For situations or things that are not just unattractive but also morally repugnant or grotesque, you can use the term 醜悪 (shuuaku). 

Usage: It’s not generally used to describe people’s appearance and is used more so for actions and behaviors

Nuance: This word carries a powerful negative connotation and is often used in serious contexts, such as regarding crime in the nightly news or written articles.


(Sono jiken wa shuuaku na hanzai datta.)
That incident was a heinous crime.


Language is a powerful tool for expressing our thoughts and feelings. Knowing how to convey the concept of “ugly” in Japanese is essential for explaining yourself effectively and can come in handy in certain social situations as well. While there are several words and phrases to describe ugliness in Japanese, it’s equally important to use them with cultural sensitivity, politeness, and an awareness of context. 

Whether discussing aesthetics, appearance, or moral judgments, choosing the right words to express “ugly” in Japanese can help you navigate conversations with tact and respect for the language’s nuances.

Photo of author

Sonya S

An Arizonan living in Tokyo, Sonya is in love with all things nature, art, and food, and--in pursuit of all three--moved to Japan right after college. She works full time in translation and medical assistance in order to put food on the table for her rescue cat.

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