An expression of love is a little different in Japanese than we may be used to. Connoisseurs of Japanese culture know that the Japanese language is often very indirect and a direct declaration of love is uncommon compared to Western cultures. It is more common to express your affection through actions rather than words. This applies to both friendly and familial love, as well as partnered romance.
So how can you confess your love to someone in Japan without risking a social faux pas? Read on to learn all about the expression of love in Japanese.
"love" in Japanese
There are two words for expressing love in Japanese, but they are used differently. The first word is ai 愛, a general term for love, describing romantic affection as well as friendly, familial, materialistic, etc.
You can find the character 愛 in the following words, among others:
Kawaii 可愛い – Sweet
Aishō 愛称 – Pet name or nickname
Mederu 愛でる – cherish, admire
The second word is koi 恋, Which refers exclusively to romantic love. The character also appears in some words, such as:
Koibito 恋人 – Beloved, partner
Koiuta 恋歌 – Love song
Hatsukoi 初恋 – First love
There is also a word that combines both characters for love: renai 恋愛. It means romantic love or falling in love. For example, a marriage for love, as opposed to an arranged marriage, is called a renai kekkon 恋愛結婚 denotes.
Sometimes the word rabu ラブ which is the Katakana version of the English word "love". Especially young people sometimes say they are "rabu rabu ラブラブ" when they really fall head over heels for each other.
Expression of love in Japanese
Before you even think about proclaiming your feelings in a romantic context, you should familiarize yourself with the concept of kokuhaku, the "confession. In this, you "confess" your feelings for a person in hopes of then dating them.
In this confession, it is normal "tsukiatte kudasai 付き合ってください" to mean something like "Please go out with me" or "Can we go out with each other?" means.
Tsukiaou 付き合おう means "going out" in the romantic sense.
Without this confession, you are theoretically not in a committed relationship with the other person.
Suki desu 好きです and daisuki desu 大好きです
" Suki desu " means "to like", so when you take someone aside and say "suki desu!" or "suki dayo!" (informally) expresses an affection that goes beyond friendship.
Therefore, in this context, the phrase means something like "I love you," even though the direct translation would be "I like you".
" Daisuki desu " means to like or love something or someone very much, so it has a similar effect to "suki desu.
For example, when confessing your feelings to someone, you can say:
Suki desu! Tsukiatte kudasai.
I like/love you. Can we go together?
Note that both suki desu and daisuki desu are used quite regularly in general expressions when you like something – so not just in a romantic context.
This means "I love you" and can be used exclusively in the romantic sense. Whether or not you actually say this is a whole other story, because in reality this expression of love is very rarely used in Japanese and is considered extremely serious.
Other expressions of love in Japanese
There are many other phrases that are equivalent to an expression of affection – without actually saying "I love you". While they are not really declarations of love, it may help your conversation partner recognize your feelings for him or her.
Issho ni itai
I want to be with you.
I want to see you (or literally, I want to meet you).
Futari de ikō / issho ni ikō
二人で行こう / 一緒に行こう
Let us go together.
For example, when the person you like is talking about an event, you can say:
"Futari de ikō" or "issho ni ikō".
Do you want to phrase it more like an invitation, you say:
Issho ni ikimasenka?
Do you want to go with me? / Let’s go together?
Japan’s unique dating culture
In addition to the differences in culture and language, Valentine’s Day is also celebrated differently. In Japan on this day not men, but women show their affection to the important people in their lives, in the form of gifts.
Usually these are chocolate or. Chocolates, which are awarded according to three categories:
- Giri choco義理チョコ , or "duty chocolate". This is given as a formality and without any romantic meaning to family members, acquaintances or colleagues.
- Tomo choco 友チョコ women give their girlfriends.
- Honmei Choco 本命チョコ women give to the person for whom they have romantic feelings.
In case you’re wondering when it’s men’s turn: A month later, on 14. March, the White Day. You can learn even more about Japanese Valentine’s Day and White Day customs in this article.
Another interesting aspect of Japanese dating culture are gōkon 合コン, group dates. Like a blind date, only as a group: these organized meetings bring single men and women together with the aim of setting them up with each other.
Dating in Japan is very different from Western cultures after all. Confessing love to your partner and gestures of affection in public are uncommon among Japanese couples. This may be a bit confusing at first, but hopefully this article has brought you some clarity on the expression of love in Japanese!
You can learn more Japanese expressions in our articles in the language category, such as terms and phrases from anime. And on our Go! Go! Nihon blog you can learn even more about Japanese culture and society.
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