I talked about the Japanese word for love a while ago in this post, but as time went on I felt that I didn’t really cover enough for people who wanted an in depth explanation on the different words for love, and the right situations for each one.
So if you’re just looking for a quick read, then my earlier post might be better for you to check out. In this post (how do you say I LOVE YOU in Japanese) I’ll talk a lot more about the culture’s view on love and the different Japanese words used to say it.
I’ll start with what you would say to a romantic partner first since that’s probably what most people are after. But of course you might also want to tell your friends or relatives that you love them, so I’ll be sure to include that as well.
When do you know you two are serious?
In America and other Western cultures, it’s not uncommon to be seeing a few different people right at the start when you’re not really sure you want to commit to one particular person. This kind of situation is facilitated by things such as dating sites on the internet, speed dating in your town, and dating apps on your smart phone.
Basically, you go on several dates with different people and hopefully you find one person to commit to and begin a serious relationship with. But most people don’t really know when they’ve crossed over from “casually seeing someone” to “exclusively seeing them.” We aren’t always great at being decisive and direct.
Have you ever asked or been asked by someone “what exactly are we…?”
But in Japan, there’s not really an “easing into” a serious relationship like we have. Rather, there is a kokuhaku 告白, which is a “love confession” that officially starts the committed relationship. At this point, you have to stop dating all other people, and even if you just “hang out” alone with someone of the opposite sex, you would be still considered guilty of cheating on your girlfriend / boyfriend.
The kokuhaku 告白 is serious business! After one or two dates, you can expect people to start asking you about it!
Here’s the point: you don’t really want to say “I love you” to a potential romantic partner before the kokuhaku 告白 has taken place. Before that point you’re not considered “serious” just yet. But after that point, you’ll being using…
Suki, Daisuki, and Aishiteru
The most common way to say “I love you” in Japanese is with the word suki 好き. This kanji is sometimes translated as “like” but can really mean both “like” and “love” in Japanese.
This is the one you will use soon after you have started a new relationship with the person you like. You can also use it to say things like “I love coffee” so it doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight in the love department.
あなたが好きです (anata ga suki desu)
I like (love) you
It’s pretty interesting when you learn about kanji because you start to see the stories that they tell. If you take a look at the kanji for love, you will see that it is comprised of two different kanji: the one for “woman” and the one for “kid”
Love = Woman + Kid
好 = 女 + 子
This little detour into the meaning of kanji is important because it helps to explain the meaning of daisuki 大好き which is made up of the kanji for “big” which is dai 大 and the kanji for “love” which you already know is suki 好き.
This is the the one that gets used most often. Obviously throwing in a “big” right before “love” is a stronger way to tell someone how much you care about them.
あなたが大好きです (anata ga daisuki desu)
I love you!
Now the phrases above can seem to be a little formal because of the ending word desu です, so just replace that with the informal da だ if you are a guy and drop it all together if you are a girl.
For friends and family:
There are two forms of “I love you” that will work anytime you want to tell a non-romantic partner about your feelings for them. The only real difference between the two of them is the degree that you want to express. You’ll probably use suki 好き for friends and daisuki 大好き for family members.
And on the grammar side of things, be sure to attach ga が to the noun that you love.
And here’s the big one!
And now we get to the biggest one of them all: aishiteru 愛してる
What’s interesting is that aishiteru 愛してる is the most common translation of “I love you” from most translation devices like Google Translate and others. BUT, it’s not the one that Japanese people actually use the most. Like I mentioned earlier, daisuki 大好き is the one that gets used the most.
However, aishiteru 愛してる is definitely the most powerful!
This is actually rarely used by most people, and is usually just reserved for lovers. It could be translated as “eternal love” so you probably won’t hear it from anyone who isn’t absolutely committed, 100% to their soul mate.
I love you!
You might hear this one used in romantic films, but you probably won’t hear it while walking around in Japan. The Japanese culture tends to shy away from public displays of affection. In fact, seeing a couple of love struck people kiss each other would be quite scandalous!
So those are some ways for you to tell someone you’re true feelings about them. But we’re not quite done just yet. Because when it comes to talking about love, there is a fish that gets involved…
Love and the Koi Fish
So what does love have to do with the Koi fish? Just the pronunciation!
You see, when you want to talk about love you will use the word koi 恋 which as you can see (hear?) sounds exactly the same way as the fish does.
恋に落ちちゃったみたい (koi ni ochichatta mitai)
It seems I fell in love
You can also use it as a descriptor. So if you want to write a love letter, you will write a koibumi 恋文. Or if you want to say that someone is your lover, you can say they are your koibito 恋人 . Or maybe you just want to sing them a love song? That would be known as a koiuta 恋歌 .
Want some audio examples?
So if you’d like some help on the pronunciation of these words, and also some additional things like asking someone out on a date, then check out this blog post that’s over on the Rocket Japanese website.
They’ve got some great recordings along with their Rocket Record pronunciation tool, so you can try saying it yourself and get some immediate feedback.
One word of warning though, they designed their recording tool for optimum use in the Google Chrome browser. So if you’re having trouble, try switching to that one if you’re not already using it.
That’s all I’ve got for today! If you enjoyed this post, let me know by leaving a comment below!