Ways to say "I Love You" in Japanese

How Do Japanese people use “I Love You”?

Do you know how to say “I love you” in Japanese? You may have heard “ai shiteru” or “suki” as ways to express love in Japanese. In this article we explain the Japanese nuances behind the love related words in Japanese.

“I Love You” in Japanese
Being in Love
Other forms of Love

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– Tanaka sensei, how do you say “I love you” in Japanese?

– Well, let’s see…

Learning a foreign language is less about mastering grammar, vocabulary, and conjugation. But getting to know a culture’s heart and way of thinking is definitely more important, don’t you think? And what is more intriguing and exciting than to learn how to say “I love you” in another language?

The Japanese language is no exception. The least we can say is that there is already a tremendous amount of articles on how to say “I Love You” in JapaneseThat being said, they all seem to address the matter while ignoring the delicate subtleties of translation.  Expressing your love in a foreign language is more difficult than it seems. And in Japan, love is quite a serious affair. 

I Love You in Japanese - Ai Love

“I Love You” in Japanese

One of the dearest kanji of all is certainly the one that symbolizes “love”, “affection” and “care”: 愛. Read as “ai”,  you will combine this tiny little word with the verb “suru” (to do) to say “I love you”. Most of the time, the construction “Ai shite iru” will be used to translate a foreign movie or book “I love you”. This kanji expresses a strong and positive emotion of regard and affection. As it conveys committed feelings of love, the expression is used with care. 


Ex: 彼女愛している。
Kanojo o aishiteiru
“I love her”
Note that the expression is transitive. 

Doesn’t it sound like a sweet sentence you would use on someone you are interested in? Here are some other Sweet Words for Love in Japanese that you should definitely check out!

Being “in Love” in Japanese

The romantic or passionate love is distinguished with a lovely kanji, “恋” read “koi” or “ren”. Similar to the previous, this little word can be combined with “suru” . “Koi” appears in the expression “to fall in love”, “lover” and “first love”. However, you cannot say “I love you” using “Koi”.

how to say "I Love You" in Japanese - in love infographic

Ex: 彼女恋している。
Ex: “I am in love with her”.

Note that the expression is intransitive.

恋に落ちる: to fall in love
恋人: lover
初恋: first love

Other Forms of Love in Japanese

Both kanji have for component the heart, 心 but they do not convey the exact same love. One very important nuance is that “ai” implies a long lasting love, mature and somehow the expectation of reciprocity. “Ai” is used when one finally get the courage to declare one’s love: “愛の告白をする”( “ai no kokuhaku wo suru” ). The love in “ai” is not limited to romantic love, but can express the affection for one’s family as in parent’s love: “親の愛” (“oya no ai”). The word is finally a general expression of love.

On the other hand “koi” is a passion, longing for the object of the affection. In a way “koi” is said to have a selfish aspect as the focus is on the expression of your feeling, more than on the object of the affection. “Koi” does not expect a reciprocity, leading us to stories of disappointed love: “失恋” (“shitsuren”).

Combined, the kanji 恋愛 is read “ren’ai”, the tender affection two people can have, leading them to a marriage of love: “恋愛結婚をする” (renai kekkon wo suru). The romantic “love poem” and the rather sulfurous “love affair” are both based on the word “renai”.

恋愛詩: love poem
恋愛事件: an illicit love affair

Is “Love” in Japanese limited to 愛 and 恋?

Of course not. Readers of manga and lovers of anime will tell you that “I love you” in Japanese is most often expressed by the colloquial “suki desu / da”, “好きです/だ”.

"I Love You" in Japanese - i like you suki infographic

“Suki” means “to like” most of the time, as in “I like chocolate” or “I like baseball”. But when used with regard to another person, “suki” is (roughly) translated as “I love you” in Japanese, in a softer way than “ai”. The adjunction of “dai” 大 to “suki” emphasizes the affection for the loved one: “I love you very much”. Don’t be fooled by Japanese popular culture, “suki da” is (really) not easy to tell when affection really matters.

This makes translating “suki da” into a romantic “I love you” a matter that is largely dependent on the context. But if you’re really into someone and would still like to show your affection, simply add a “とても (Totemo)” as a suffix to indicate that you’d love someone VERY much. Nevertheless, do use it sparingly as it may come across as cheesy for some at the end of the day. 

Also, you might also want to consider checking out the Tokyo Daijingu Shrine if you haven’t already done so! ;D Psst, it’s surprisingly close to our school!

Reality of “I Love You” in Japanese: Don’t say it

You thought you were ready to declare your love to a Japanese? Well, that was a trap. In fact, Japanese do not express their love openly and when they do, they do not want to say it too lightly. Some will never meet the one to whom they feel inclined to tell “ai shite iru” or even “suki da”. The expressions analyzed earlier are actually barely used in natural conversations.

The idea that action speaks more than words is particularly true when it comes to Japanese’s expression of affection. For example, a rather famous and traditional way to ask a woman in marriage consists of asking her “to prepare miso soup every morning”. The little things that you do everyday for your lover is worth more than all the time you could say I love you. Japanese men will be even more reluctant than women to express it. If pushed to utter those words, they will wonder about what “love” really is. 

Being Indirect about your Feelings

Japanese people can be cryptic as hell when it comes to feelings and emotions. A (very) twisted way to say “I love you” in Japanese would be “I do not hate you”: “嫌いではない”. Yes, you’ve read it right. Mainly used by men, this allows them to express the desire to be with someone without being too straightforward. This is since confessing one’s feeling may be considered way too embarrassing.

So embarrassing that actually, when Japanese people were confronted for translating foreign text into their language, they got lost with translating the expression “I love you”. In ancient times, it was uncommon for Japanese to use sweet words. Confused as how to convey the nuance and connotation, Natsume Soseki, a famous Japanese writer from Meiji Era translated it as “the moon is beautiful, isn’t?”: 月がきれいですね.

Such a poetic and beautiful way to declare one’s love is worth fewer words, is it not?

Coto Japanese Academy is a unique Japanese Language School in Iidabashi Tokyo, we offer relaxed and fun conversational lessons for all levels of Japanese learner. Coto Japanese Academy prides itself on its community atmosphere and fun lessons that focus on creation of opportunities to speak and learn Japanese. If you are interested in studying Japanese in Tokyo – please visit our contact page here.


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