It has been written that it is difficult to be rude in Japanese, that the politeness for which Japanese culture is famous is built into the language itself. That is not literally true, of course. Japanese has plenty of invectives and pejorative expressions. But I must admit that they rarely have the same malicious bite that many English curse words have.
For example, one of the worst things you can call a person in Japanese is “bakararo,” which means something like “stupid idiot!”, or to call them “urusai!”, which is “noisy,” or “bothersome.” (Being bothersome - to cause trouble for others - is a big no-no in Japan.) In addition, this is the country where men - middle aged and older men especially - traditionally referred to their wives and introdced them to others as “ofukuro,” which means something like “old bag.” And if that is not considered insulting, then what is? I have heard that some people still talk like that today, but not many.
It has occurred to me over the course of years that one of the worst things a Japanese can think and say about another person is that they are “sneaky.” The meaning of the word in Japanese ranges from stealth (“kossori”), to stealing (“nusumu”) and includes unkindness (“hikyo-mono”). I spent many years working for a Japanese boss who kept a list of 24 points that were to be used to pre-screen and disqualify job applicants during interviews. The list included such humorous and outright illegal titbits as “Colored teachers (black, brown, Asian faced),” “Who don’t have morality,” “Too much of affable personality,” “Handicapped teachers (walking dificulties [sic], over-weighted, blind),” “Who have too high expectation for schools and students,” and my favorite, “Who have sneaky eyes (psychologically).”
It’s hard to imagine that an employer like this in Canadawould stay in business for long. Rejected applicants might sue him into bankruptcy, or the government could force him out of business due to noncompliance with civil rights laws, etc. But not so in Japan where there is no legal penalty for racial discrimination and where civil rights are reserved for citizens, not for resident foreign non-citizens (seriously). But my point is the use of “sneaky” by my former boss.
Additionaly, I have read sometimes in the newspaper the results of surveys of the Japanese public on the topic of crimes committed by foreigners in Japan (vastly overblown in the Japanese imagination by blatantly overstated and deliberately frightening misrepresentations by government and police), in which Japanese express their discomfort over“sneaky” and “sneaky-looking” foreigners - especially Chinese. So I slowly came to realize that, unknown to me, the attribute of sneakiness probably plays big in Japanese thinking and feelings.
I would not be surprised if some Japanese think that I am sneaky. Especially that old bag who lives on the ground floor of our building, two floors directly under our apartment. Everyone in the building hates her because she is a sour, malicious gossip, and a snoop. She is ugly, too. She especially hates me (I have my suspicions why). In any event, to get into the building one has to pass directly in front of her door and windows to get to the elevator. Since she is retired and unmarried she has little better to do than to watch people’s comings and goings all day long. But unlike many Japanese people, she cannot hear me coming until I am right there because I have the habit of picking up my feet when I walk, like a mature adult. Many Japanese shuffle and scruff their feet when they walk. It’s very annoying and you can hear their footsteps from a distance. So maybe this woman thinks that my relatively silent gait indicates sneakiness on my part.