Describing Personality traits in Japanese

How do you describe people and their unique personalities in Japanese? Well, despite the fundamental differences between Japanese and English, the overall concepts are basically the same. And because one’s characteristics often go hand-in-hand with one’s personality, we’ll cover many of the most common phrases that deal with each.

So, the next time you’re at a Japanese drinking party and need to describe someone’s wild behavior, or you simply want to impress your language exchange buddies with your new command of their language, you’ll be able to do so. As you might expect already, this will be quite the vocabulary-heavy lesson, so be prepared to stretch those thinking muscles to make room for lots of new words.

The Japanese word for «personality»

There are many examples in Japanese where it doesn’t make sense, or just isn’t quite natural, to say things in an exact or direct manner like we do in English. Fortunately, when describing your own or someone else’s personality, this is one of the few instances where things can be a bit simple - for Japanese, at least!

Let’s get started with the most basic example: the Japanese word for personality

(seikaku)
Personality

And like it was just mentioned, this word is super easy to use. Here are two of the most basic examples:

( seikaku ga ii)
To have a good personality
(seikaku ga warui)
To have a bad personality

But, obviously, it’s not enough just to say whether or not someone has a good or bad personality. That alone isn’t very helpful information, nor does it really describe what anyone is actually like.

So, without any further ado, here is a full guide to describing personality in Japanese, with specific examples along with the contexts in which you might use them.

Japanese words for positive personality traits

We’ll start with the more fun, happy, and lighthearted words because, generally speaking, these are the ones you’re most likely to use to describe another person. ( related article: Japanese compliments )

Describing an «outgoing» personality in Japanese

For those individuals who seem to always be doing new things, going above and beyond the status quo, or just never seem to run out of energy, you’ll probably hear their personality described as:

(shakou teki)
Sociable, outgoing

Here it is in context, used in an example phrase:


(kanojo ha shakou teki desu)
She is outgoing.

Other Japanese words for energetic personalities

When it comes to those outgoing individuals, there are a few other terms that come to mind as well. The first is one that you may have already heard plenty of times before if you’ve been studying Japanese even a little:

(genki)
Energetic, cheerful, feeling good

Here is that vocabulary word in context, used in a full Japanese sentence:


(itsumo doori, kare ha genki desu ne?)
He’s energetic as always, eh?

Similarly, someone who is bright and positive, and never seems to get down about anything would be:

(akarui)
Bright, positive

(akarui seikaku da)
A bright personality.

Another fun word that you may not hear all that often, but is another great choice for those who prefer to look on the bright side of life:

(mae muki)
Positive; literally means ‘forward facing’

(kanojo ha maemuki na hito desu)
She never stops looking forward / She’s a positive person.

Emotions are related to personality, here is an article about describing emotions in Japanese.

Japanese words to describe a shy personality

Not everyone in the world is super talkative and socially outgoing. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that outside of the few who will excitedly interact with foreigners because of their rarity in Japan, most Japanese are quite shy when it comes to talking with strangers.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are shy people themselves, but just that the perception is different for foreigners looking in from the outside.

Either way, here are easy ways to say someone has a shy personality:

(hazukashi gari na)
Shy, easily embarrassed

(Eee! Odoroita! Ano shonen, totemo hazukashi gari na seikaku yo!)
Wow! What a surprise! That boy has such a shy personality.

Given that we also tend to compare most shy people to those who are bit more extroverted (rather than the other way around), here’s the opposite word used for those who aren’t socially outgoing:

(naikou teki)
Shy, introverted

(hitomae de Suzuki san no seikaku ha naikou teki ni narimasu)
Suzuki gets introverted when she’s in front of others.

Sometimes you can say this following phrase, too. But, understand that it means something a little more like the person is “timid”, or “weak of heart”, or even “wimpy”. Which isn't all that much different, depending on the context. Just make sure that’s what you intend to say!

(ki ga yowai)

(kare ha tsuyoi sou na hito no ni, jitsu ha ki ga yowai)
Even though he seems strong, in reality he’s weak / a wimp.

Japanese vocabulary to describe a kind personality

If there’s anything I can attest to about the Japanese people as a whole, it is that they are generally some of the kindest individuals in the world.

In fact, when my wife and I first visited Japan three years ago, we got incredibly lost and had no idea how to get to where we needed to go. But after asking an older Japanese man a simple question (and poorly phrased, I might add!), he actually went way out of his way and personally escorted us for a few miles to the exact location we required.

To this day, I still don’t know how late we may have made him to some prior engagement of his, but no matter what he was definitely:

(shinsetsu)
Kind, nice

Let's see this word used in a full Japanese sentence:


(boku teki ni ha kare ga sekai juu no mottomo shinsetsu na otoko no hito desu)
For me, he was the kindest man in the world.

Just as well, for those who are similarly kind, but also have a generally pleasant and comfortable personality about them, you can use:

(yasashii)
Sweet, nice

(kino, shokuji dokoro de minna ten’nin ha yasashi katta da ne?)
All the employees at the restaurant yesterday were nice, weren’t they?

Finally, this last word isn’t exactly one for “kind”, but it fits the bill in that those who are laid back tend to be easy-going and lenient:

(nonbiri shite iru)
Literally, “taking one’s time / being carefree / leisurely”

(Takeda to ieba, subete o nonbiri shiteiru no desu)
Speaking of Takeda, everything he does is easy-going.

People with pleasant and kind personalities make good friends. We have previously written about friendship in Japan.

Japanese word for funny or interesting

In English, we understand the words ‘funny’ and ‘interesting’ to have different meanings. However, in Japanese, there is one word most often used for both and it can mean either one depending on the context. It’s also something you’ll hear quite often in anime shows:

(omoshiroi)
Interesting, funny

(watashi ha kare no hanashi o kiku koto no ga suki desu. Omoshiroi dakara!)
I like listening to his stories because he’s interesting!

(omae, omoshiroi da!)
You’re a funny one!

At other times, people want to say that someone is ‘interesting,’ but more in the sense that he or she is actually a bit odd. In that case, here is the word you may want to use:

(okashii)
Funny, strange

(watashi ha kare no hanashi o kiku koto no ga suki desu. Okashii dakara!)
I like listening to his stories because he’s weird!

Japanese words for negative personality traits

It’s an unfortunate truth of the world (even in Japan!), but not every single interaction you’ll have in your life will be a positive one. Unless it has been for you so far. In which case, you gotta tell me your secret! Anyway, let’s look at a few more Japanese words that’ll help round out your vocabulary for describing others.

Japanese word for irresponsible

This isn’t a word you would often think to attribute to anywhere or anyone in Japan. However, we are all human, and sometimes we can be a bit irresponsible. Here’s how you would say that:

(musekinin)
Irresponsible

(tokidoki anata ga musekinin dato omoimasu)
Sometimes, I think you can be irresponsible

Another word you can use:

(tekitou)
Lazy, unreliable, irresponsible

(kanojo ha tekitou na taido desho ka?)
Does she have a lazy attitude?

However, this word actually has another meaning that is just about the complete opposite depending on how you use it:

(tekitou)
Suitable, proper, appropriate

(tekitou na kotae o sagashi nasai)
Please search for a suitable answer.

As a general rule, if you hear or see this word being used to describe an object, idea, or action, it most likely means ‘suitable.’ However, if it’s being used to describe a specific person’s characteristics, it’s probably the other meaning! Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification when in doubt . . . Unless, of course, you’ve been eavesdropping.

Japanese word for mean

For Westerners, the Japanese are a notoriously indirect people culturally speaking. At all costs, they try to avoid any sort of conflict, especially that of a delicate social nature. (see this article on expressing opinions in Japanese)

So, if someone seems to be mean towards you, there are only a few possible explanations. You’re either misinterpreting their poor attempts to use English words which sound too forceful, you either did something terribly wrong, or you somehow ran into one of the only truly mean Japanese people who even exist.

Either way, here are a couple of vocabulary words you can try to use to describe a mean personality in Japanese:

(ijiwaru)
Mean, unkind, ill-tempered

(nanimo warui koto o shinakutemo, kare ha anata ni mada ijiwaru desu.)
Even if you do nothing wrong, he’s still mean to you.
(kougeki teki)
Aggressive

(kare ha seikaku ga kougeki teki de, hito ni sakerare teiru)
He’s aggressive, so people avoid him.

How do you say selfish in Japanese?

Yet another word that doesn’t seem quite right to throw around, but is nonetheless useful to know and understand. Especially if you hear it directed at you! Hopefully that never happens, but at least you’ll have the knowledge to understand it and self-correct if at all necessary.

(jiko chuushin teki)
Selfish, self-centered, self-absorbed

Often, the word for ‘greedy’ goes hand-in-hand with someone who is selfish, so it's good to know that one, too:

(yoku ga fukai)
Greedy

(kare ha jiko chuushin teki de yoku ga fukai)
He is selfish and greedy.

How to describe an arrogant personality in Japanese

In Japan, although there isn’t really a social class hierarchy in the most typical Western understanding, there is often a general deferment to one’s elders (one’s ‘sempai’).

This becomes compounded in work/office culture where one also has those who rank above you in the workplace. Due to this, it’s not entirely uncommon to experience some form of snooty arrogance from those ‘above’ you in these contexts. (see this article on Japanese business etiquette)

Once again, it’s not always the case, but it’s still helpful to know how to describe an arogant personality in Japanese:

(goman)
Arrogant, haughty, overbearing

(nante goman na yatsu da!)
What an arrogant guy!
(ibaru)
Bossy, overbearing, domineering

(kare ha shita no mono ni ibatte iru)
He is bossy to his juniors.

Another word that fits into this category a bit, one that you’ll often see used in more of a playful or less serious manner, but still has some negative implications:

(namaiki)
Brazen, cocky, cheeky

(mattaku namaiki da)
He/she has plenty of cheek!

(hijo ni namaiki na seinen)
A horribly cocky young man.

Japanese equivalent to the «-ish» suffix

As a last little addition to all the other words we’ve learned together today, there’s just this final thing that pulls it all together. You might be surprised to hear that in Japanese, there is a small sound used exactly in the same way we use the ‘-ish’ suffix in English. It is the ending sound of:

(ppoi)
-Ish

It’s honestly one of the easiest things you can ever learn and use in Japanese, as it’s always put at the end of whatever word you’re using to describe something or someone else.

And, you can use it to literally describe anything as being similar to something else. Which works perfectly for describing personality traits! For example:

You get the idea, right? Have fun with this one! It’s almost impossible to use incorrectly, and most Japanese will compliment you on its usage.

Conclusion

Well, there you go! You now know every single Japanese word you could ever possibly use to describe anyone you ever meet! Kidding. There is so much more we could cover and go over to further round out your knowledge, but that would make for something remarkably similar to a dictionary. And, no one wants to read that! Though, it is always a handy tool when you just can’t figure out what ‘that’ word is . . .

The best way to learn though, as always, is to practice in real time. If you don’t already have a language exchange partner, try to find someone to practice Japanese regularly together with. Then, ask them to describe their friends’ and family’s personalities and see how many words you may or may not recognize.

Now, how would you describe the personality of this article? Hopefully, it wasn’t too « つまらない » (Tsumaranai / boring) !

PS: You can use our free language tool to make your own Japanese vocabulary lists, and record your own Japanese phrases.