Japanese culture has a unique way of expressing affection through terms of endearment. While Western culture tends to focus on verbal expressions of love and fondness, Japanese culture emphasizes non-verbal expressions such as gestures, actions, and tone of voice. Non-Japanese speakers need to understand these cultural nuances to avoid embarrassing situations or unintentional faux pas in personal and professional relationships.
In this article, you’ll learn how to say “I love you” in Japanese. But more importantly, you’ll learn the cultural nuances of showing affection to someone in Japan.
Japanese is the 12th most spoken language globally, with an estimated 150 million speakers. Whether you plan to visit Japan, do business cross-culturally, or simply hope to expand your language skills, understanding how to express yourself will grow your capacity to connect around the world.
“Suki desu” is a common way to express interest in someone. To use this as an expression of romantic love, it must be directed to one person in the proper context. “Suki” can let someone know you’re interested and want to pursue something further with them. So, to avoid an awkward situation, don’t say it to a casual friend unless you want to date them.
A more casual and popular version of “Suki desi” is “Suki da” (好きだ), which is a gender-neutral phrase that translates to “I like you.” In Japan, you will likely hear “Suki da” or “Kimi ga suki da” more often than other terms of endearment.
How to sound it out: “Soo - kee - deh - soo”
The "soo" sounds like the English word "sue" with a soft "u" sound, the "kee" sounds like the letter "key" in English, the "deh" sounds like the English word "day" with a soft "e" sound, and the "soo" sounds like the English word "sue" with a soft "u" sound.
This is a way to communicate a more general feeling of love to a romantic partner or very close friend. The more formal version is “Aishite imasu” (愛しています).
How to sound it out: ai - she - teh - roo
The "ai" sounds like the letter "i" in English, the "she" sounds like the English word "she," the "teh" sounds like the English word "teh" with a soft "e" sound, and the "roo" sounds like the English word "roo" with a soft "u" sound.
“Daisuki da” means to “really like” or “like a lot.” You can use this phrase to say, “I really like you” or “I love you a lot,” depending on the context. It's most commonly used between romantic partners.
How to sound it out: “Die - soo - key - dah”
The "die" sounds like the word "die" in English, the "soo" sounds like the English word "sue" with a soft "u" sound, the "key" sounds like the letter "key" in English, and the "dah” sounds like it is spelled.
There’s an idiom in Japanese called “Fugenjikko” (不言実行), which means actions speak louder than words. Or, more simply, “talk is cheap.” The best way to show appreciation in Japan is to show it: Spend quality time together, plan meaningful dates, give thoughtful gifts, and point out specific things you like about the other person.
Unlike English, the Japanese language doesn’t have the “I” and “you” English speakers associate with “I love you.” Instead, the “I” and “you” exist as implicit assumptions. The most common way to say “I love you” more accurately translates to “(I) am loving (you).” So rather than an inactive declaration, telling someone you love them acknowledges that loving is an active pursuit. This mirrors the Japanese value that the greatest way to show love is through your actions.
Saying “I love you” can be scary enough. Imagine saying it to someone only to discover you’ve killed the mood by misusing it! Whether you’re speaking casually with friends or trying to spark a romantic relationship, it's important to be sensitive to cultural differences and context when expressing endearment in Japan. That way, you can be confident knowing your expressions of love and affection are well-received and appreciated.
Here are a few key differences between Japanese and Western culture when expressing love:
Japanese people tend to be more reserved in expressing their feelings compared to some English-speaking cultures. Public displays of affection — like hugging, kissing, or holding hands — are less common and are not well-received in most public settings.
In Japan, it’s common to use more formal language when expressing feelings of love and affection, especially in public or in front of elders. Using casual language to express love is generally reserved for more intimate settings and close relationships.
Japanese people place a strong emphasis on respect, and this extends to the way they express love and affection. Expressions of love should be communicated sincerely and with deep respect for the recipient.
Expressing love and affection indirectly, such as through actions or gifts, is common in Japan, rather than directly through words. For example, it’s more common for a Japanese person to show love through acts of kindness and consideration rather than explicitly saying, "I love you." Consequently, overusing “I love you” might harm a relationship more than strengthen it.
Japan is known for its rich cultural heritage, cutting-edge technology, and unique approach to many aspects of life, including dating. If you're interested in dating in Japan, it's crucial to understand the local dating culture and customs to avoid misunderstandings and make the most of your experience. So, throw out anything you’ve learned from Western dating shows and read this next section carefully!
Sure, learning how to say “I love you” in Japanese is an essential skill in a romantic relationship. However, nonverbal communication is arguably the most important indicator of love in a foreign language. People often communicate their feelings and intentions through gestures, body language, and facial expressions rather than directly expressing their emotions through words. This can make it challenging for non-Japanese people unfamiliar with these nonverbal cues, so it's important to be attentive to the subtle messages your partner may be sending. The longer you spend with someone, the more you pick up on their nonverbal cues.
Japan has a rich cultural heritage steeped in tradition, which is reflected in the country's dating culture. For example, it’s common for people to practice indirect communication and avoid confrontation or criticism. Sometimes this can be a difficult learning curve for Western partners. Additionally, the importance placed on respect and social status can also impact dating dynamics, as people may feel pressure to conform to certain norms and expectations.
Group dates are a popular and socially accepted way of getting to know someone in Japan. These group dates often involve multiple couples and are a fun, relaxed way to socialize and build relationships. While this approach to dating may seem unfamiliar to those from more individualistic cultures, it can be a great way to get to know someone and build trust and connection in a group setting.
Matchmaking in Japan is still a common practice, especially among older generations. This can involve the help of a professional matchmaker or simply the introduction of a friend or family member. While matchmaking may seem old-fashioned to some, it can provide an opportunity to meet someone with shared values and interests and help to build a strong foundation for a long-term relationship.
With the rise of technology and the increasing popularity of online dating, the dating scene in Japan has evolved in recent years. While traditional approaches to dating are still prevalent, the younger generations are gravitating to online platforms to find significant others. This has opened up new opportunities for people to connect and form relationships and has helped to expand the dating pool beyond traditional social networks. That said, understanding traditional Japanese culture remains an essential foundation for any relationship.
At this point, you’ve learned how to say “I love you” in Japanese, but there are many more ways to express affection and closeness. The choice of a term will depend on the relationship and context in which it is being used. And don’t forget “Fugenjikko” (不言実行) — “talk is cheap,” so always make an effort to show your affection in addition to these terms of endearment:
[tomod͡ʑaɴ/ /tomod͡ʑi kʊɴ]
A shortened version of the word "tomodachi" which means friend. You can use it to address a close friend in an affectionate way.
While this word can also be used as a term of endearment in romantic relationships, it can also be used between friends to show closeness and affection.
This word means "comrade" or "team member" and can be used between friends to express a sense of camaraderie and support.
This word means "number one" and can be used to show that someone is special and important to you.
[oni͡t͡ɕaɴ] / [one͡t͡ɕaɴ]
Literally meaning "older brother" or "older sister," these terms can be used between close friends as a way of expressing a sibling-like bond and affection.
This word means "best friend" and can be used to express a close and meaningful friendship.
This word means “thank you” and can be used in most situations. For closer relationships, you can say “Doumo arigatou” (どうもありがとう) for a more relaxed tone.
Do you feel ready to say “I love you” in Japanese? We hope this comprehensive guide helped! If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start by practicing with baby steps. After all, everything starts at hello!
Want to become fluent in Japanese?
Celebrate birthdays in Japanese style! Master the phrases and expressions to wish someone a 'Happy Birthday' in the Japanese languageRead →
Saying thank you in Japanese goes beyond just "arigatou". Get a deeper understanding of Japanese culture, and learn to express your gratitude.Read →
Unlock the secrets of greeting in Spanish with 'How are you?' Expand your language abilities and connect with native speakers.Read →