Language | WELL SAID

The ugly truth behind using 'mittomonai' and 'kakkowarui'

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Densha no naka de o-keshō o suru no wa, yappari mittomonai wa ne. (As I thought, it’s unbecoming to apply your makeup inside the train.)

Situation 1: Mrs. Okubo is riding the train with her mother when they spot a young woman putting on her makeup. Mrs. Okubo’s mother leans in and whispers to her about it.

母: 電車の中でお化粧をするのは、やっぱりみっともないわね。

大久保: でも、若い人たちはあまり気にしないみたいよ。

Haha: Densha no naka de o-keshō o suru no wa, yappari mittomonai wa ne.

Ōkubo: Demo, wakai hito-tachi wa amari ki ni shinai mitai yo.

Mother: As I thought, it’s unbecoming to apply your makeup inside the train.

Okubo: However, young people don’t really seem to mind it all that much.

 

Traditionally, it’s considered bad manners in Japan for a woman to apply her makeup on the train. Elderly people tend to view this kind of behavior as みっともない, which can mean unbecoming, shameful, disgraceful, etc. An い-adjective, using it can expresses the speaker’s sense of disgust at an action considered inappropriate according to social norms:

よれよれのTシャツに短(たん)パンなんて、そんなみっともないかっこうで外(そと)に行(い)かないで。 (Please don’t go outside in that shabby T-shirt and such short pants, it’s embarrassing.)

言(い)い訳(わけ)ばかりで失敗(しっぱい)を認(みと)めないのはみっともない。 (It’s disgraceful to simply make excuses and not own up to your own failure.)

 

Situation 2: Continued from Situation 1. Mrs. Okubo’s mother is talking about her grandson Mitsuo.

母: 光男は小学生のころ、妹と手をつないで学校に行くのはかっこ悪いとか言っていたけど、本当はやさしい子なのよね。

大久保: そうね、勉強はともかく、性格はいいのよ。

Haha: Mitsuo wa shōgakusei no koro, imōto to te o tsunaide gakkō ni iku no wa kakkowarui toka itte-ita kedo, hontō wa yasashii ko nano yo ne.

Ōkubo: Sō ne, benkyō wa tomokaku, seikaku wa ii no yo.

Mother: When Mitsuo was a child, he said it was embarrassing to go to school holding his sister’s hand, but actually he is a nice kid.

Okubo: Yeah, regardless of his studies, he has a good nature.

 

かっこ悪(わる)い conveys an objective opinion that something is in poor shape or is unappealing and embarrassing. It can also illustrate that the figure, appearance, attitude or actions of someone or something is unbecoming. This い-adjective is mainly used in spoken Japanese, and does not carry the nuance of shame that みっともない does:

こんなシャツはかっこ悪くて着(き)たくない。 (This shirt looks all worn-out, I don’t want to wear it.)

 

Bonus Dialogue: Mr. Mita looks to be down in the dumps. Mr. Sere asks his friend what is wrong.

三田(みた): きのう偶然(ぐうぜん)、電車(でんしゃ)の中(なか)で彼女(かのじょ)が他(ほか)の人(ひと)といるところを見(み)ちゃったんだ。で、聞(き)いてみたら、付(つ)き合(あ)っている別(べつ)の相手(あいて)だったんだよ。

セレ: ええっ、それはひどい!

三田: うん。でも、電車の中でケンカするのはみっともないと思(おも)って、後(あと)から連絡(れんらく)して別(わか)れることにした。…あーあ、まただめだったなあ。こんなことばかりだと、かっこ悪いよ。

セレ: そんなこと言うなよ。よし、きょうはやけ酒(ざけ)を飲(の)もう。

三田: ありがとう。でも、また飲み過(す)ぎてみっともないところを見られるのもいやだな。

セレ: そんなこと、気(き)にするなよ。いつか三田くんのいいところをわかってくれる人が見つかるよ。

Mita: Yesterday, I happened to see my girlfriend with another guy on the train. Then, when I asked her about it, she said that she’s currently dating him (too).

Sere: What, that’s awful!

Mita: Yes. But, I thought it would be in poor taste to quarrel on the train so I decided to contact her later and break up. … Ahhh, that was no good either. I’m always breaking up like this, it’s so lame.

Sere: Don’t say that. OK, tonight, let’s drink away our sorrows.

Mita: Thanks. But, I don’t want you to see me drink too much and act in a shameful manner.

Sere: I don’t mind such things. Someday, Mr. Mita, you’ll find someone who understands your good points.