Expressing your love to someone in Japan isn’t an easy task; people of different social classes must be addressed differently. Alongside social class distinctions, many different unspoken conventions exist between the Japanese and westerners regarding displays of affection. Whereas the English-speaking parts of the world often display more verbal forms of expression, it is more common for the Japanese to opt for more physical gestures whilst exercising moderation with the words “I love you.”
Theres a lot of ways to say I love you in Japanese! Whats the difference between aishiteru vs daisuki? Is saying “I like you” in Japanese instead enough? One should not take that as an opportunity to regard the Japanese as cold or unloving, however. In fact, in the Japanese language, there are multiple conjugations of the phrase. Ranging through formality, the terms for how to say “I love you” in Japanese are as follows.
5 ways of saying “I love you” in Japanese
1. 愛してる Ai shiteru – I love you
Pronounced aye shi-te-roo, this is considered one of the most formal ways of verbally expressing love. This phrase is rarely used in conversation and it is commonly reserved for those in love, such as married couples, and even still used sparingly. In place of this phrase, the native Japanese person may incorporate a series of loving gestures instead. Gift giving, acts of service and other physical demonstrations of love are often a more popular option. Verbal expressions, especially that of this particular phrase, are treated as something intimate and sacred. As such, its usage is something not as cavalier.
Sentence example: 君を愛してる
Romanization: Kimi wo ai shiteru
Translation: I love you.
2. あい しています Ai shiteimasu – I love you (formal)
The longer and more formal version of the aforementioned ai shiteru, this expression is the least casual verbal expression of love. Reserved for the most intimate of moments, this is not the kind of expression that a pair who have been on a few dates would use. It is regarded as unnatural and stiff and is for those who want to be unambiguous and plainly understood. Again, this expression would be more commonly used between a married couple, perhaps even on the wedding day during an exchanging of vows and it is not an expression to be taken lightly.
Sentence example: たをとても愛しています
Romanization: Anata o totemo ai shiteimasu
Translation: I love you so much.
3. 好きだ Suki da – I like you
More commonly accepted for more frequent use, this phrase’s connotations are more informal but not necessarily lighter. There are also different conjugations depending on gender, suki da yo for male speakers and suki yo for female speakers. Westerners might regard this phrase as too casual of an expression of love but in Japan, where verbal expressions are considered quite heavy, this is the perfect phrase to express your affections without creating an atmosphere of suffocating embarrassment. Used between lovers, it is sufficient enough to express romantic love without the formal connotations reserved for deeper types of bonds, like with engaged couples.
Sentence example: 彼は彼女が好きだ
Romanization: Kare ha kanojo ga suki da
Translation: He likes her.
4. 大好きだ Daisuki da – I [really] like you
Where suki da is a simple yet effective “I like you,” the addition of the kanji character for big (大 – dai) loosely translates the overall phrase “I really like you.” This term can be used to express love of all kinds, from romantic to simple enjoyment. Used in many situations, this term can be for couples, friends and even inanimate objects like one’s favourite food. It is the phrase most popularly used in Japanese media and probably the one international audiences are most familiar with, due to its inclusion in manga and anime.
Sentence example: 私はその両方とも大好きだ
Romanization: Watashi ha sono ryouhoutomo daisuki da
Translation: I like both of them very much.
5. 好きやねん Suki yanen – I like ya (slang)
This phrase is both informal/slang as well as a regional conjugation. The region in question is Osaka, Japan and the dialect is called Kansai-ben. Informality is most recognised and more welcome than the other declarations of affections listed, especially if the declaration is meant to be something said and acknowledged more casually. Say you want to tell your friend you appreciate them or you’re budding a new relationship and you aren’t exactly ready to formalize your feelings. Perhaps you don’t want to make the other party uncomfortable or too embarrassed. If any of these resonate, then this phrase is ideal.
Sentence example: いま わ すき やねん
Romanization: Ima wa suki yanen
Translation: I like ya now.
Cultural tips about expressing your love in Japan
In Japan, actions speak louder than words.
As stated earlier, it isn’t uncommon for Japanese people to show their affections rather than verbally expressing them. This doesn’t make them uncaring or cold in any way. On the contrary, the Japanese have loving gestures like helping their lovers with domestic tasks like cooking and cleaning.
These more tangible ways of expressing one’s love are more culturally accepted due to their strengthening qualities towards a couple’s bond or to reinforce how one feels towards someone they may care about but not necessarily feel romantic love for such as family or close friends.
This concept can be better understood for Westerners through the idea of love languages, where in this case, the Japanese are quicker to perform acts of service or exchange gifts before rushing towards words of affirmation. It culturally makes more sense to depict something as abstract as love through actions.
In Japan, men hesitate to say “I love you”
It may not even be for the reasons you think.
According to a survey conducted by Japanese dating site Sugoren, there are several reasons cited by Japanese men as to why they may not be as quick to verbally express their romantic affections as their female counterparts.
Some men have stated that they regard the term to be something that shouldn’t be used recklessly and they restrain themselves to maintain its formality. Others say they’re simply too shy or that they find suki da more natural and sufficient enough to express their feelings.
More unusual reasons include not wanting to inflate the egos of women, being “too cool” to use the phrase and not wanting to lie about their feelings. The more inexperienced of the test group openly admit not knowing for sure if what they truly feel is love.
Expressing love in English and Japanese is very different.
As a language, Japanese has a lot more social rules to adhere to. Rules differ depending on the speaker, whom they are speaking with, gender norms and many other elements.
In general, it is assumed that something as intimate as love is reserved for more familiar bonds. One would not express their love for someone they have just met or someone with whom they have a more formal relationship.
As such, it would be rather unusual for the speaker to be especially formal when expressing their love for the recipient. More casual means of expression would be the preferred method and it wouldn’t be unconventional for the subject to respond with a gesture rather than a reciprocated verbal declaration of love.
Social standards differ from area to area, and take understanding and adaptation to immerse yourself into the culture without judgement.
Conclusion for Saying I love you in Japanese
Now you know what to say next time you’d like to express your love in Japanese. Like with any language, it takes practice and allowing yourself room to grow and improve. Remember to take into account any social conventions that better explain certain rules that may seem unclear at first. Learn to speak Japanese like a native speaker with AmazingTalker.
But don’t stop your language journey for spreading love here! If you want to learn how to express love in other languages, we have you covered. Please check out our other articles on how to say “I love you” like: I Love You In French, I Love You In Spanish and I Love You In Korean.