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Koibito and More: What Do These Japanese Love Words Mean?

Tokyo TerryTokyo Terry
Published Time
Posted on 
January 12, 2024
Modified Time
Updated last 
January 19, 2024
Two people on a date. The Japanese word for "lover" is "koibito".

Relationships can be complicated, especially when the people involved speak different languages! What do you call the person you’re dating? How do you say “I love you”? So here’s a quick Japanese language guide for this Valentine’s season, starting with “koibito”!

Koibito, 恋人

In the Japanese language, “koibito” is made from two kanji. the first is koi, which means “love”. The second is hito, which means “person”. Together, the two kanji mean “the person you love,” which should make remembering when to use it relatively easy. And it applies to any gender, which makes using it even easier!

Two people holding hands to make a heart. The Japanese word for "lover" is koibito.
“Koibito”, “kanojo,” and “kareshi” are the perfect words to describe your loved one! Image via Shutterstock

Koibito is used for someone you are in an exclusive romantic relationship with; you go on regular dates and buy presents for each other on Valentine’s Day, White Day, and birthdays. Perhaps you even hold hands in public! What if you want to be more specific about this special someone? For this level of relationship, you can also use kanojo for girlfriend and kareshi for boyfriend.

Kokuhaku, 告白 

If you and your partner show affection publicly in Japan, it may be time to state your love officially! Kokuhaku translates to “confession,” but it has a deeper meaning.

This Japanese word is also made of two kanji. The first means “to tell,” and the second means “white.” In Japanese, the color white is associated with openness and clarity. So, kokuhaku means confessing your true romantic feelings to your partner.

In Japanese culture, kokuhaku is usually expected when a couple dates seriously for a long time. If you confess your love to your partner this way, it altogether changes the relationship! It means the focus is not simply “dating” but dating with the possible goal of marriage.  

A man giving woman flowers as part of his confession.
“Kokuhaku” also means “confession”. Image via Shutterstock

Kokuhaku is a very formal step in a Japanese relationship. One person in the relationship formally states their feelings and wishes, and the other accepts (hopefully!). After confessing their love, the couple will introduce each other to their parents.

Once permission is granted, the couple can prepare to tie the knot. It is no surprise that many find kokuhaku very intimidating. Most couples date for a long time to ensure their partner feels the same way. Nobody wants to have their feelings rejected!

Barentain,  バレンタイン

Barentain is the romaji (English spelling) of the word “valentine.” It is also written in Japanese katakana as バレンタイン. Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Japan on February 14th, but with a tiny difference; only the men receive gifts on this day. Women receive their gifts one month later, on March 14th, called White Day. The gifts are usually chocolate, but other sweets are also acceptable.

Hands holding a Valentine heart.
Have you ever asked someone to be your “barentain”? Image via Shutterstock

So what do you say when giving a barentain gift in Japan? You don’t have to confess your eternal love as with kokuhaku! It’s popular to place Valentine’s chocolates on coworkers’ desks without saying a word! Are you hoping to start a new relationship? Then a simple suki (“I like you”) or daisuki (“I like you very much”) after the person’s name is name is sufficient!

Are you looking for some amazing snacks just in time for Valentine’s Day? Check out TokyoTreat! TokyoTreat delivers limited-edition Japanese noodles, snacks, drinks, and sweets right to your door so you can enjoy the latest treats directly from Japan!

How do you say “I love you” in Japanese?

It is expected to hear people expressing their deepest love in Japanese songs, movies, and anime. If you study the language using popular media, you might think Japanese people always say “I love you”! But in Japan, expressing your feelings openly in everyday life is uncommon.

Two puzzle pieces with a heart on it.
There are many ways to say “I love you” in Japanese. Image via Shutterstock

We know that “suki” means “like.” But it can also express love in some situations. This can be a less intense form of love, as with Valentine’s Day. But it can also mean something more, as with dating. Using desu at the end of the sentence to form “Anata ga daisuki desu” (“I really like you”) is formal enough for most couples. But how do we say “I love you”?

If you have been dating for some time, you can use “aishiteru” after the person’s name. This is the Japanese verb for love, and it is pretty useful. If you want to take your relationship to the next level of commitment, you can use the formal form “aishiteimasu.” It is more formal and serious but not enough to be considered kokuhaku. 

Why are Japanese words like “koibito” important to know?

You’ll likely find yourself in a relationship if you spend more than a few months in Japan. And with foreigners making up only about 2% of the population, the other person will likely be Japanese! Learning the Japanese love language can make it easier to meet that special someone and avoid misunderstandings.

Two people making a heart with their hands.
What other words do you know in Japanese? Image via Shutterstock

Knowing these words can also help you understand Japanese culture. In Japan, what is not said is often more important than what is said. And, when spoken aloud, some standardized words and phrases are expected in specific situations. It’s easy to come across as awkward or rude – especially when the topic is love.

Some words like “barentain” are usually written in Japanese katakana, but some shops use romaji, so it’s good to keep both forms in mind. You wouldn’t want to miss a good Valentine’s Day sale and show up empty-handed when meeting your significant other! Are there any other love-related Japanese words, phrases, or customs you think are particularly useful? Share them in the comments below!

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