You’ve got love on the brain and you’re ready to tell your special someone “I love you” … in Japanese. Maybe they speak it, or maybe you just want to impress your significant other with your Japanese language skills.
Or maybe you want to learn how to say “I love you” in Japanese just in case you fall in love while traveling abroad. Maybe you want to understand those gushy scenes in shoujo anime.
Or, you’re interested in having a deeper cultural knowledge and understanding of how Japanese people express love and affection.
No matter what your reasons, this is a great topic to learn.
For one, it’s always good to know how to properly express your appreciation and affection in any language and culture. It feels good to make others feel good! But this particular topic offers a lot of insight into the differences between Western cultures and Japanese culture.
So, how do you say “love” in Japanese?
Editor's note: before we get started, if you’re looking for an online Japanese course, here’s the course I actually recommend: Japanese Uncovered – Learn Japanese Through the Power of Story, a course with a fascinating new method.
How to Say “Love” in Japanese
“Love” is either 愛 (ai) or 恋 (koi). In verb form, “to love,” you add the verb “to do” which is する (suru). So they become 愛する and 恋する.
What’s the difference between ai and koi?
Ai refers to the love of a person, a romantic love. Koi is a more general feeling of love, and describes the feeling itself. The difference is pretty subtle.
Some other synonyms you should know:
- 愛情 (aijou) – Affection
- 愛情表現 (aijou hyougen) – Love expressions
- 愛着 (aichaku) – Attachment
- 愛でる (mederu) – Admire
- 想い (omoi) – Sentiment, desire
- 愛の告白 (ai no kokuhaku) – Love confession
Lastly, there’s an informal way to talk about love, which is ラブラブ (rabu rabu). It means “lovey-dovey,” and you’ll often hear it used to talk about couples who are rabu rabu and still in the ハネムーン (hanemu-n, “honeymoon”) stage.
How to Say “I Love You” in Japanese
If you want the direct translation, “I love you” in Japanese is 愛してる (aishiteru). But, in Japanese culture, expressing love and affection isn’t very common. This phrase may be said only a handful of times between a husband and a wife during their life (usually during a proposal or marriage). 愛してる is considered a “heavy” sentiment, almost too intense and dramatic.
If you’ve ever heard of the 5 love languages, then this may be the best way to explain it from a Western perspective. One of the love languages is ”affectionate words”, such as telling your partner that you love them.
In Japan, instead of expressing love with affectionate words, it’s more common to express love through actions, kind gestures, and gift-giving. Japanese culture values loyalty, consistency, and caring actions above all else. This is considered so important that some couples may admit they’ve never even expressed “I love you” verbally to anyone before. It’s becoming more common in younger generations but it’s still not used often. Don’t be mislead by dramas and anime, which romanticize relationships more than real life (what TV show doesn’t, though?).
Remember, Japanese is not a direct language. They’re more likely to say chotto (“a little bit”) than iie (“no”) because “no” is too direct. The same is true for expressing feelings. Japanese people don’t want to use “love” lightly, and they don’t think it feels natural to express such strong feelings. Of course, there are exceptions, but as a whole, phrases like aishiteru are saved for TV and marriage proposals.
If you want to let someone know you care, it’s far more common to say 好きだよ (suki da yo) if you’re a guy or 好きよ (suki yo) if you’re a woman. This actually translates to “I like you” — quite a lukewarm statement in English, but an appropriate one for Japanese.
There are some regional differences, too. The most common one you may hear is Kansai-ben, the dialect from Osaka. In Kansai-ben, you would say 好きやねん (suki yanen).
How to Say “I Love” in Japanese
If you’re in a committed relationship, you can bump it up a notch to 大好きだよ (daisuki da yo), which is “I really like/love you.” The word daisuki in Japanese combines the kanji for “big” (大) and “like” 好き (like) to mean you have strong affection or interest in something.
But daisuki can be used to say “I love” … anything! Just like how we overuse the word “love” for everything in English, you can use daisuki in the same way. For example, you can say “I love books” with 本が大好きです (Hon ga daisuki desu).
In casual speech, you can drop the particle ga and verb ending desu to exclaim 本、大好き！ (Hon, daisuki!) It’s closer to saying, “Ah, books! I love them!”
As you can see, daisuki has varying levels of “love” just like how we use it in English to describe many kinds of love. One thing to note is — when said to another person — daisuki doesn’t always mean “I really like you” or “I really love you.” Sometimes, it just means “I really enjoy spending time with you.”
Which, let’s be honest, is a much less intense way to express affection than “I love you.”
What if you’re in a situation where you’re expressing love or someone else is expressing it to you in Japanese? Keep in mind that using daisuki doesn’t always mean a love confession. You’ll have to use contextual clues and the other person’s actions to determine intensity.
And in case you’re wondering about text shorthand like “I love u” in Japanese, or even “ily” … Well, you won’t find an exact equivalent. Japanese has a lot of text shorthand like we do in English, but “I love u” isn’t one of them. It’s more common to send cute stickers (like what we have on Facebook) that say things like すき (suki, “like”), ドキドキ (dokidoki, Japanese onomatopoeia for “heart racing”) and 幸せ (shiawase, “happy”).
How to Say “Cute” in Japanese
“Cute” in Japanese is かわいい (kawaii). In Japan, everything is cute. You’ll hear this phrase all the time for women, children, and objects.
You wouldn’t normally call a man かわいい. Instead, you might call him かっこいい (kakkoii, “cool” or “handsome”) or イケメン (ikemen). Ikemen is a word combining ikeru (“cool”) and menzu (“men”).
How to Say “Beauty” in Japanese
If you wanted to say “beauty” in Japanese as a noun, you would say 美しさ (utsukushisa). But to describe someone or something as beautiful, you can say 美しい (utsukushii). This word is a bit heavy, though, like aishiteru. So utsukushii is usually reserved for beautiful things, especially in nature, such as when the cherry blossoms bloom.
When telling someone they look nice, it’s common to say 素敵な (suteki na), which means “lovely.” You can be more casual by saying ステキー！ (suteki-, but drawn out and written in katakana).
You could also use きれいな (kirei na) for “pretty,” which is appropriate for any situation.
How to Say “Sexy” in Japanese
“Sexy” in Japanese is taken from English and written as セクシー (sekushi-). Sometimes you’ll hear 色っぽい (iroppoi) which literally means something like “colorful-ish,” but translates as “sexy,” “sensual,” or “erotic.” It’s often used to talk about older women.
How to Say “Heart” in Japanese
There are three words for “heart” in Japanese: 心 (kokoro), 心臓 (shinzou), and ハート (ha-to). Shinzou refers to your physical heart inside your chest. Ha-to is taken from English to describe the symbol of a heart. Finally, kokoro is used to describe the emotional heart. Kokoro is a word that connects the mind, heart, and soul into one word. It captures the essence of all the emotions you can feel.
Unlike many other languages, there aren’t a ton of romantic phrases using “heart” in Japanese that you’ll actually hear in everyday life. While it’s romantic to say things like mi corazón in Spanish, or “my heart beats for you” in English, there really isn’t a phrase like this in Japanese. It’d be too heavy. Kokoro is more a metaphysical sense of being than an expression of love.
However, if you want to talk about being heartbroken, you could say:
- 心を壊れています (kokoro wo kowarete imasu): My heart is breaking
- 失恋 (shitsuren): Heartbroken (unrequited love)
- がっくり (gakkuri): Heartbroken, miserable
How to Talk about Your Boyfriend in Japanese
Girls love to be cute with their boyfriends in Japanese! You’ll often hear girls shorten the name of their loved one, and add -ちゃん (-chan) or -くん (-kun). For instance, if your boyfriend’s name is Kaito, you would call him Kai-chan or Kai-kun. Either is cutesy, but for those new to Japanese honorifics, -chan is used more for girls and -kun for boys. The exception is usually children or when a girl wants to sound extra cute. Then she may call a boy or boyfriend -chan.
When talking about your boyfriend, you can call him either 彼氏 (kareshi), 彼 (kare) or ボーイフレンド (bo-ifurendo). Any of those are fine, but when you want to say, “I have a boyfriend,” it’s 彼氏がいます (Kareshi ga imasu). And if you want to talk about an ex-boyfriend, it’s 元カレ (motokare).
If you’re already married, your husband is 夫 (otto) when talking to others. When talking to your husband directly, you can call him 旦那さん (dannasan) to sound cute.
How to Talk about Your Girlfriend in Japanese
“Girlfriend” in Japanese is either 彼女 (kanojo) or ガールフレンド (ga-rufurendo). And ex-girlfriend is 元カノ (motokano).
And to say you have a girlfriend, it’s 彼女がいます (kanojo ga imasu).
Unlike when girls talk about their boyfriends, guys won’t usually call their girlfriends by a cute name or add a suffix. Instead, to show affection and intimacy, they’ll just call them by their first name without honorifics. So if your girlfriend’s name is Minako, you might call her just “Minako” or shorten it to “Mina.” Men don’t want to add cuteness when they’re speaking, so this is the best way to show affection. Women can call their significant others by their first names, too, but it’s far less common. It seems to be heard more often among the younger generation now.
When talking about your wife, you can call her 妻 (tsuma) or 奥さん (okusan) when talking to others. When talking to her, you can be sweet and say 嫁 (yome, “bride”) or call her ダーリン (da-rin, “darling”).
For both men and women, you can say you’re married with 結婚しています (*kekkon shite imasu).
How to Talk about Your Friends and Family in Japanese
So when talking about your friends and family, how do you express affection?
Well, just like in romantic relationships, you would express your feelings through actions and loyalty. But, you can tell your family 大好き (daisuki) to say you love them. Just don’t overuse it — it isn’t said every day, if at all. It’s most often said between young children and their parents, and then it isn’t said anymore after they grow older. But it depends on the family and their personalities, too.
You would never tell your friends that, though. It’d be very strange to tell a friend that you really like them! Instead, you could call them your 大切な友達 (taisetsu na tomodachi), “important friend.” Online, you could tag a BFF with ずっ友 (zuttomo, “forever friend”), but this is only インターネットスラング (inta-netto surangu, “internet slang”).
In general, it’s more common to express gratitude instead of love to family and friends for all they do. (あなた)がすることすべてに感謝します ((Anata) ga suru koto subete ni kansha shimasu, “I appreciate all you do.”) will work — just replace anata with the person’s name.
How to Talk about Feelings in Japanese
So we’ve talked about how you shouldn’t be very open about expressing strong feelings in Japanese. But how would you start making a move?
Here are a few phrases to level up your relationship:
- 今度一緒にデートしない？ (Kondo issho ni de-to shinai) – Would you like to go on a date sometime?
- 付き合ってください (Tsukiatte kudasai) – Will you be my girlfriend/boyfriend? (Literally: “Please associate with (only) me.”)
- 結婚してくれる？ (Kekkon shite kureru) – Will you marry me?
Share the Love in Japanese
There’s your crash course how to say “I love you” in Japanese! How will you practice it? Are you going out to look for your soulmate in Japan and profess your love?
Are there any romantic phrases I missed? Share them in the comments with me!
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.