Learn how to say “I love you” in Japanese

To confess your love, you can say: “好きです。付き合ってください。(suki desu. tsuki atte kudasai) which means: “I like you. Go out with me, please.”. You can also say 愛してる (aishiteru) for “I love you”, but be careful not to overuse it. In Japan, love is rather shown through actions than spoken. Where 好き (suki) expresses affection and fondness, 恋 (koi) instead, suggests passionate love that is felt in the beginning of a relationship. On the other hand, 愛 (ai) stands for deep love, the one that was built through time. In between ai and koi, there is 恋愛 (renai) which is a transition from the state of 恋 (koi) to 愛 (ai) ; from passionate love to love.

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Japanese love vocabulary

Japanese society is known for its shyness and showing too much affection or feelings in public can be quickly considered to be indecent. Even when knowing the norms and cultural codes, expressing love in Japanese can be pretty tedious. While English is pretty straightforward when it comes to saying “I love you”, Japanese has quite a variety of words for each nuance of love, starting from attachment to passion to commitment.

For that reason, talking about your amorous feelings in Japanese can hardly be reduced to knowing how fto say I love you. Here is a non-exhaustive list of words and expressions that could turn out to be useful if you were to find yourself in a situation where you have to talk about love in Japan:

  • 愛 (ai): love
  • 恋 (koi): love
  • 恋愛 (renai): love, falling in love
  • 好き (suki): like, affection
  • 大好き (daisuki): I like you very much/to like a lot
  • 愛してる (aishiteru): I love you
  • 恋人 (koibito): lover
  • 恋に落ちる (koi ni ochiru): falling in love
  • 一目惚れ (hitomebore): love at first sight
  • 彼女 (kanojo): girlfriend
  • 彼氏 (kareshi) : boyfriend
  • 告白 [する] (kokuhaku [suru]): confession (to confess feelings/love)

I love you

Different ways to talk about love in Japan

好き (suki)・恋 (koi)・愛 (ai)・恋愛 (renai), you’re probably wondering why Japanese people have four different words to talk about love? It’s merely because each of them holds a different nuance and notion of love.

I like you. Conveying fondness in Japanese

First of all, suki (好き). The latter can be used more lightly than the other three. It expresses affection rather than literal love and is usually translated into “like” in English. For this reason, it can be used between friends as well as between partners.

Passionate love in Japanese

Koi (恋) tends to convey a deeper and more passionate love that is usually felt in the beginning of a relationship. For example, if you worry as soon as your loved one is not nearby anymore, if your heart beats as soon as you see the person you love, or if you deeply desire to be loved back, all of this are associated to koi.

Profound love built through time

Ai (愛), however, stands for a profound love that was built and developed with time. As described on Mine blog (in Japanese), ai is when you tame someone, as described by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in The Little Prince. In other words, it means that two people have created bonds. Ai also describes the love that is given rather than the love that is desired in return for loving. It also means that you love a person for his or her shortcomings and not only for their qualities. That is to say, ai is a kind of love that is more “responsible” when koi (恋) is more spontaneous and intense.

Depicting the transition from passion to commitment

Last but not least, renai (恋愛). This one combines the kanji characters of 恋 (koi) and 愛 (ai) and reflects the transition from koi to ai. Passionate feelings are still present but one person, or both, long for stability and to anchor their love and relationship. Put it simply, it’s the feeling you get when falling in love.

How to say “I love you” in Japanese and in which context?

You may have heard about it but saying “I love you” outloud in Japanese is pretty rare and kept for truly special occasions. Moreover, there’s not only one but several ways to say “I love you” in Japanese, all of which are specific to certain situations. But then, how to convey your feelings in Japanese?

If you plan on doing your kokuhaku (告白) or confession, gather all your courage, make sure you’re away from any kind of crowd and say “好きです。付き合ってください。” (suki desu. tsuki atte kudasai) which translates as “I like you. Please, go out with me.”. Of course, you do not have to stick to this formulation and can adapt this sentence to the way you’re feeling. But if someone comes up to you to confess their feelings, chances that their confession be similar to the above saying are great.

After confessing your love (or being confessed to), it’s usually tolerated to say 好き (suki) or 大好き (daisuki), even though you will still need to moderate the use of these two. However, you will probably want to save 愛してる (aishiteru) for very special and unique occasions.

But, in fact, the best way to make a Japanese person know you like him or her, is probably to stay silent and show your love through actions and daily tasks. A simple “thank you” (ありがとう arigatō) can sometimes be worth a thousand “I love you”.

How to celebrate Valentine’s Day in Japan

In Japan, February 14th is a key day to confess your love. Habitually, women give chocolates to men they are close to and men have to give each woman they got chocolates from a present that’s worth up to 3 times the value of the chocolates on March 14th, the well-known “White Day”. If you plan on disclosing your feelings on that specific day, the secret lies in the kind of chocolates you are going to give. Traditionally, there are two types of chocolates for Valentine’s Day in Japan: 義理チョコ (girichoko), which are chocolates given by “obligation”, to your boss at work for example, and 本命チョコ (honmeichoko), which are “true feeling chocolates” and that correspond to saying “I love you”. Therefore, they can be very useful for the shyest ones as they compare to a kokuhaku (confession). But keep in mind that only women can give chocolates. Men will need to think harder for a way to confess their love.

Saying I love you to your family in Japan

If it’s not unusual for Westerners to say “I love you” to members of their family, in Japan, it’s quite different. Actually, some parents can tell their children “suki” or vice-versa but only when those children are pretty young, otherwise, it won’t really happen. You guessed it, even within the family circle, love is shown through daily actions, like helping with chores at home, for instance.

Learn how to say “I love you” in Japanese and a lot more!

If your goal is to be able to convey your feelings in Japanese but also to be able to have conversations with your friends or the language skills required to work in Japan, SNG is the right fit for you! If you’d like to join us for one month, three months, one year or two, contact us! Our multilingual team will support you through the application process for your visa and after your arrival in Japan as well, if you need help to find a place to stay or support for administrative procedures. If you happen to be already in Japan and would like to improve your Japanese skills with evening or Saturday classes, we also offer those. Don’t wait any longer, contact us now!

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