What Is “Cute” In Japanese?

Every now and then you want to look up a new word in Japanese so that you can use it to complement someone or describe how you feel about something. We’re going to cover one of those words in depth today. What is cute in Japanese?

That will be revealed in the first part of today’s post, along with an explanation and some example sentences so that you can see how it is used and understand it easily.

After that, there are some related words that I felt were close enough to “cute” that they would be worth going over and learning.

So if you’re ready, let’s begin!

What Is “Cute” In Japanese?

The Japanese word for cute is actually one that you are (most likely) familiar with already. I say this because it is one of the most commonly said words in Japanese anime and shows.

The word is かわいい (kawaii) and has a lot of meanings such as “cute; adorable; precious” and the like.

The way that I spelled it was entirely in hiragana, which is the most common way to see it, but there actually are some kanji that can be used.

Although not as common, you will still see this word written as 可愛い sometimes.

Something that should be mentioned about this word is that there is a sense of a thing being small, dainty, and fragile along with it being cute.

That’s one of the reasons why I used pictures of kittens in this post, because they are small, adorable, vulnerable, and of course very cute!

This is actually found within the Japanese dictionary entry for the word. If you type the information into dictionary.goo.ne.jp you get the following information:

  • 小さいもの、弱いものなどに心引かれる気持ちをいだくさま。

Which can be roughly translated into English as “the state of being attracted to (or fascinated by) small, weak things.

The word かわいい is often used to describe young Japanese girls when they look cute or adorable. If you want to give someone a complement, you can just tell them:

  • 可愛いですよ!
  • kawaii desu yo!
  • You’re so cute!

It’s probably okay to say it towards a young boy, perhaps at the age of five or younger, but it would probably be best to avoid it for any that are older than that as it might make them feel a little awkward.

For those situations, it would probably be better to call them handsome or cool, which I will cover in the last section of this blog post.

What Is “Pretty” In Japanese?

Perhaps you don’t want to tell someone that they are cute, but instead you want to let them know that you think they are really pretty.

If that’s the case, then you’re in luck because that is the next word that we are going to go over.

The Japanese word for pretty is きれい (kirei). It is mostly written in hiragana like I just showed, but there is also a kanji version that is sometimes used. Here it is now 綺麗 in case you run into it while reading somewhere.

The first thing that I should say about this word is that it is a “na-adjective” which means that you have to add on a な (na) to the end of it when you use the word to describe a noun as being pretty.

  • きれいな花ですね。
  • kireina hana desu ne.
  • This is a pretty flower, don’t you think?

On the other hand, when you want to tell a person that you think they are pretty, you can drop the な and instead just use the verb だ (da) or です (desu) at the end of the sentence.

Of course, it might also be a good idea to throw in the ending particle よ (yo) for emotional emphasis.

  • 綺麗だよ!
  • kirei da yo!
  • You’re pretty!

Something else that is interesting about this word is that it has an alternative meaning that is pretty different from pretty.

The other word that きれい can mean is “clean; clear” and can be used to describe someone’s clothing, room, or the air. Of course, it can be used for much more than that, but I just wanted to provide a few examples.

Considering the fact that the culture in Japan has included daily bathing for hundreds of years, which is totally different from Europe where they would only bath once or twice a year, I suppose you could make a connection between being “clean” and being “pretty” in that culture.

Either way, I agree with them… Take a bath or shower every day!

What Is “Beautiful” In Japanese?

What Is Beautiful In Japanese

One of the things that I should mention is that the word きれい can also mean “beautiful” when translated into English.

But for this section in particular, I wanted to talk about a different Japanese word that gets used to say something or someone is beautiful.

That word is 美しい (utsukushii) and can be used for physical things as well as more abstract ones, such as a friendship.

  • 美しい日本語の歌
  • utsukushii nihongo no uta
  • beautiful Japanese songs

I don’t hear this word used to tell people that they are beautiful a whole lot when listening to Japanese people talk. Generally speaking, they will use きれい instead.

But I actually do hear this word used more often when talking about Japanese fashion.

This could be when talking about the clothing or style that is being examined, but it can also be used in reference to the person who is walking down the runway.

When you also consider that this kanji get used in words like 美術館 (bijutsukan) which means “art museum” you begin to get a feeling that this word has more to do with describing art and the like, rather than an everyday person’s appearance.

Perhaps that’s just my understanding of the word, but I thought that I would share it with you. Please feel free to share you’re own experiences and opinions of this word in the comments section below.

What Is “Cool” In Japanese?

As it turns out, there are actually a lot of different ways to say cool in Japanese.

But for this section I wanted to limit it to just one that you can use to complement other people when you think that they look cool.

The word is 格好いい (kakkou ii) and it can refer to the way a person looks, which might be their clothing or hair-style, or it can also be used to say that someone looks cool doing an action (like surfing or something).

This is the word that I mentioned earlier that you can use to say that a young boy looks handsome or cool, rather than calling him cute and potentially embarrassing him in front of everyone.

At any rate, this word is a common one and you are sure to encounter it sooner rather than later.

Now It’s Your Turn!

That’s all that I’ve got for you today.

We’ve covered a lot of words, but of course the main ones were cute, pretty, beautiful, and cool.

If there was any confusion over any part in today’s post, then please let me know by leaving a comment down below and I will do what I can to explain it more properly.

Other than that, I hope you have a great day and thanks for reading!

8 thoughts on “What Is “Cute” In Japanese?”

  1. Hi Nick! This is a kakkou ii post! I really like it! Cultural background is very important when we are learning a language and I appreciate your experience in the Japaness culture! From now on, each time I hear somebody talking in Japanese, I will look out to see if they say kawaii! I have found this very interesting!

    • Hey thanks Henry! It’s pretty cool when you learn a new country’s culture and language and you have that deeper understanding about things that you didn’t have before.

  2. I love the Japanese letters, they look like mini drawings! I’m trying to pronounce the word kawaii and some of the sentences you mentions but I feel like I have an English accent, How can I improve my pronunciation?

    • Hey Paulina, I also love the way Japanese characters look. I feel like I’m decoding a secret message when I read it! Check out the free course on the sounds of Japanese located in the menu to help learn the correct pronunciation.

  3. Cool I have always had a small interest in japanese culture.
    It mainly stems from my love of martial arts, and anime. Thanks for this something I have trouble with is the pronunciation maybe an audiofile would really elevate this post….

    • Yeah, I’ve been kicking around the idea of building up an audio bank of native speakers pronouncing the different phrases and words that I talk about on the blog. I know of a couple sites where I could get them from, it will just either take some time or money depending on what would work better.

      Thanks for the suggestion!


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