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How to Say I Love You in Japanese

By Kim Kahan
April 08, 2022

You might be learning the Japanese language, started dating someone who is Japanese, or simply want to express love in a new way to your significant other. No matter the reason, you need to learn how to say ‘I love you’ in Japanese. 

Well, this article is here to let you know how to express your love (or, luuuurve) in the land of the rising sun. Read on for more…

Background of Expressing Love in Japanese

In the west, it is common to say ‘I love you’ to your other half or when you fall in love, but this is not the same for Japanese people. 

Japanese culture is very subtle in general. For instance, instead of saying: ‘May I have a drink?’ (nomimono-wo-kudasai 飲み物をください), they will say: ‘I’m thirsty’  (nodo-ga-kawaita ‘喉が乾いた’). Or, rather than saying a direct ‘no’, they may say: ‘chotto’ (ちょっと…).

A Japanese couple stands in a park with the sun setting behind them as the man holds out a rose to the woman while saying I love you in Japanese.
If you need to turn someone down, a simple “chotto…” can shutdown the situation. Image via Shutterstock

This is the same as the language of love. Rather than saying ‘I love you’ (aishiteiru 愛している), they might say ‘I like you’ (sukidayo 好きだよ). 

In fact, the words ‘I love you’ (aishiteiru), are commonly saved for a very serious relationship, and even in those relationships, the ‘I love you’ is used sparingly, often more in favor of the ‘I like you.’ Of course, this does depend on each couple and it’s not a concrete rule. 

We’ll go back to this later in the article but for now let’s talk about the ways that Japanese people do express their love, if not with direct words. 

Want to show some love to someone (or to yourself) with some Japanese snacks? Check out TokyoTreat! TokyoTreat sends awesome Japanese snacks, sweets, cup noodle, drinks, and more (like Japanese Kit Kats and Pocky) right to your door! A perfect way to say ‘I love you!’

How to Express Love in Japan Without Japanese

As aforementioned, Japanese people don’t like to be direct. Rather than saying ‘I love you,’ they might say ‘I like you.’ But this doesn’t mean they don’t like to express love at all. 

Rather than words, they prefer to express affection with gifts and small actions that show the other person how much they care for them. Buying chocolates, flowers, and other gifts personal to the couple often play a big part in a Japanese relationship.

Gift giving in Japan, as a culture, is widely practiced, with many different festivals and set occasions to give gifts and small presents, from Valentine’s Day through to White Day and Christmas. In fact, people can show different kinds of love with Japanese Valentine’s Day chocolate.

So, if language escapes you then it is more than possible to say ‘I love you’ the Japanese way, by buying the person a nice gift or small present.

A Lindt truck with winter holiday decorations sits in front of a building with people lined up outside waiting to say I love you with a perfect chocolate gift.
Brands like Lindt and Kit Kat really hop onto the ‘love’ train around big holidays, which means that there are plenty of Japan-exclusive events and products. Image via Shutterstock

Common ‘I Love You’ Phrases

Let’s get back to the ways to actually say ‘I love you’ in Japanese. 

好き or suki

We spoke about telling your significant other or love interest that you like them: suki dayo (好きだよ). Here, the ‘da’ part can cement it as a fact. The ‘yo’ part adds some emphasis, almost like an exclamation point. It’s like, ‘I like you, you know!’ or ‘I love you!’

There are several variations on this often-used ‘suki-dayo’ phrase, with the parts changing depending on the location and what the deeper meaning is. 

By location, we mean accent or dialect. In Japan, there are many different types of dialects (different phrases or ways to say the same thing, local to the area), but the most distinct is probably the Kansai dialect. 

The Kansai dialect, or Kansai-ben in Japanese, refers to the language of people who live in the Kansai area of Japan, such as Osaka and Kyoto. In Kansai, rather than ‘sukidayo’, they might say ‘suki-yanen’ (好きやねん). 

‘Deeper meaning’ refers to how much you like (or love) the person you are talking to. For a way to increase the factor of love, add the character for ‘big:’ dai (大). This makes it ‘daisuki dayo’ (大好きだよ). 

To make it a little more informal, simply add ‘dai’ onto ‘suki-yo’, removing the ‘da’ part = daisuki-yo (大好きよ). 

In actuality, ‘daisuki’ (大好き) by itself can be used to refer to anything! I love strawberries (ichigo) would be ‘ichigo daisuki’ (イチゴ大好き). 

One phrase to be aware of when confessing your love to someone is the suffix: ‘desu.’ If you say ‘suki-desu’ or ‘daisuki-desu,’ it sounds more formal.

A young man carries his girlfriend on his back in the streets of Shibuya at night with many people and many shops and signs in the background.
‘Suki’ and ‘daisuki’ are really only different in terms of emphasis. ‘Suki’ is totally fine for an everyday ‘I love you.’

Ai (愛)

Above, we talked about ‘aishiteiru’, which is a very literal way of saying ‘I love you’ in Japanese. 

The ‘ai’ (愛) part itself means ‘love.’ And adding the ‘shiteiru’ makes it a verb. Actually, shiteiru (している) is a progresive form of the verb ‘suru’ (する). That means that in the phrase ‘aishiteiru’, the love is ongoing.

Using ‘aishiteiru’ can come across as very dramatic, particularly among older couples. 

However, younger generations might use ‘aishiteru’ (愛してる) a little more commonly than older generations, but in general, it’s still more common to hear some form of ‘suki.’ 

For a formal ‘I love you,’ ‘aishiteiru’ can be used, but the second ‘i’ is more often removed in favor of a cooler ‘aishiteru’. 

Slang Variations

Online, other phrases can be used. One such cute Japanese word is ‘doki-doki’ (ドキドキ) which means ‘my heart is racing. 

Another common phrase is ‘rabu-rabu’ (ラブラブ) which is often used in regard to other people who are lovey-dovey.

If you’d like to speak the language of love, get the above phrases into your vocabulary and be prepared to wow your partner… or even just understand some more Japanese TV!

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