Feeling romantic? Then perhaps you're ready to say those three little words. But if you're dating a Japanese person, expressing your love in Japanese can get pretty complicated. The reality is that there’s no simple way to say, "I love you," in Japanese as there is in English. So what are your options?
In this article, we’ll explain why expressing your love verbally isn’t particularly common in Japanese society. We'll then introduce four ways you can say, "I love you," in Japanese and give you four key tips for appropriately expressing your love in Japanese.
Saying "I Love You" in Japanese: Cultural Background
Before we introduce the various ways to say, "I love you," in Japanese, it’s important to understand the cultural background when it comes to expressing love in Japanese.
In truth, it’s not nearly as common to say, "I love you," in Japanese as it is in English and the West more broadly. The English sentence "I love you" is thrown around a lot more often and a lot more casually than the equivalent Japanese phrase (if you can say there truly is one!). For example, in English, it’s perfectly normal to tell your partner that you love them every day, or to end a phone call with a quick but heartfelt "love ya"—but this is rarely done in Japanese.
In general, Japanese—and by extension Japanese culture—is much more subtle and indirect than English and Western culture. In other words, Japanese people tend to abide by the "show, don’t tell" rule when it comes to expressing their love.
It’s far more common for couples, families, and friends in Japan to demonstrate their love for one another through actions, rather than to verbally affirm it. This habit is especially true for Japanese men, who more often tend to avoid extremely direct expressions of love.
There is also speculation that some (perhaps most) Japanese people feel that using the phrase "I love you" too much will render it meaningless, which is why it’s far more important to show your love than it is to directly state it.
Finally, many people believe that the concept of love (particularly ai 愛) in Japanese is simply too abstract for ordinary people to be able to grasp. In this sense, love is almost like a poetic ideal instead of an actual feeling one can experience.
Nevertheless, Japanese people do occasionally say, "I love you," in Japanese, so it is possible to directly express your love in Japanese, even if doing so is a lot less common.
4 Unique Ways to Express Your Love in Japanese
In this section, we take a look at four different ways you can say "I love you" in Japanese.
#1: Ai shiteru 愛してる = I Love You (Deeply)
The word ai shiteru 愛してる is essentially the default phrase for "I love you" in Japanese. It is also the one that arguably comes closest in meaning to the English expression "I love you." The character 愛 ai literally translates to "love," typically with the connotation of romantic love.
Of all the ways you can express your love in Japanese, ai shiteru is by far the heaviest, most deeply felt way of doing so. In fact, I would even translate the word more closely to something like "I love you deeply" or "I am deeply in love with you." That’s how expressive this one word is!
Because of its heartfelt connotations—and because Japanese culture dictates that love should be expressed through actions and gestures rather than verbally through words—ai shiteru is rarely said aloud.
Normally, the word is used only between serious lifelong lovers or when confessing your love for someone for the first time. Even in these cases, however, you'll want to be careful not to overuse the word. It’s truly not uncommon for married couples to never say, "Ai shiteru," throughout their entire marriage!
Despite its weighty implications, you'll often see ai shiteru used in media, such as TV dramas and pop songs, for dramatic effect.
Ai shiteru is pronounced AYE-shee-teh-roo.
Note that the second syllable (shee) is a lot shorter than it looks and sounds much more like just a quick "sh" sound. This means that the entire word sounds more like three syllables.
In addition, do not pronounce the "roo" sound as you would an English "r." The Japanese "r" sound is more of a mix of the English "d," "r," and "l" sounds, similar to the way we pronounce the "d" sound in the word "ladder."
The following YouTube video explains how to pronounce ai shiteru:
- Most people simply say, "Ai shiteru," but you could also say, "Ai shiteru yo 愛してるよ," which translates to something more along the lines of "I love you, you know." The yo ending adds emphasis and makes it a little more casual.
- Ai shiteru is a casual, shortened form of the word ai shiteiru 愛している (or ai shiteimasu 愛しています), but neither of these forms is used often since they’re both more formal and sound less natural when expressing your love in Japanese.
#2: Suki da 好きだ = I Like You
The gender-neutral phrase suki da 好きだ is used a lot more commonly than ai shiteru. This phrase literally translates to "I like you," but it can have heavier implications depending on the context, the person, and the way it’s said. As a result, it’s possible for a phrase as simple as suki da to mean "I love you" or something closer to the English expression (though not as deep as ai shiteru).
Generally speaking, suki da (or the more formal variation suki desu 好きです) is used to confess to somebody that you like them (and want to date them). For example, if you have a friend you’d really like to date, you might say, "Suki da yo," to let them know you're interested in them (I explain the use of yo here in detail below).
Because of the romantic connotations of saying, "Suki da," to someone, you shouldn't say this to a purely platonic friend or acquaintance, as it could imply you’d like to take your relationship to the next level. However, if you were to say, "Suki da," to your romantic partner, this could very well be translated as "I love you," despite the fact it literally means "I like you," especially if it's used in a more serious, heartfelt way.
Ultimately, it’s up to the two people in the situation in which suki da is being said to interpret its meaning.
Suki da is pronounced much like how it looks: soo-KEE-dah. However, note that the "u" sound after the initial "s" is very, very subtle—so much so that it’s often dropped completely, making the word sound more like the English word "ski" with a "dah" tagged onto the end.
- As mentioned above, there are a couple of variations of suki da, including suki da yo 好きだよ and suki yo 好きよ. The former is a more masculine and more casual way of expressing your love for or interest in someone, whereas the latter one (without the "da") is a highly feminine expression.
- You could also use the phrase, "Suki desu 好きです," which is simply a more formal way of saying you like someone (when directed at them).
- It’s perfectly natural to use the adjective suki (like) to describe your general likes (and dislikes). For instance, you could say to someone, "Neko ga suki ネコが好き," meaning, "I like cats." There's no implication here that you're in love with cats or want to date animals (which would definitely be cause for concern!).
#3: Daisuki da 大好きだ = I Really Like You
This next way to say, "I love you," in Japanese is pretty similar to the one we looked at above; the only difference is the addition of the character dai 大, meaning "big" or, in this case, "really (like)." Because of the presence of dai, daisuki da is a little stronger and more direct than suki da.
By saying the phrase, "Daisuki da (yo)," to someone, you're essentially saying, "I really like you," "I like you a lot," or "I really like being with you."
But, as we discussed above with the adjective suki, daisuki da can also mean something deeper than just "like" and could be implied to mean something closer to the English phrase "I love you" depending on both the context and person.
Daisuki da is pronounced the same as suki da above, only this time you’ll be adding the syllable dai before it, which sounds almost identical to the English words "die" / "dye." So the pronunciation is essentially DYE-ski-dah. Be sure to put more emphasis on the initial syllable dai.
- Like suki da, there are some variations of daisuki da: daisuki da yo 大好きだよ and daisuki yo 大好きよ. The former is a more masculine and more casual way of saying that you (really) like and/or love someone, whereas the latter (without the "da") is more feminine.
- The phrase daisuki da or daisuki is not limited to romantic interests or people and can be used to express your passion for things such as food, objects, animals, activities, sports, etc. For instance, you could say, "Ryokō daisuki 旅行大好き," meaning "I really like traveling" or "I love traveling."
#4: Suki yanen 好きやねん = I Like Ya
This final way you can say, "I like you/I love you," in Japanese is fun and slangy. The phrase suki yanen 好きやねん, which translates roughly into something like "I like ya!" is from the Kansai, or Osakan, dialect in Japanese, which is known for being bubbly, direct, and a little goofy.
Like the phrases suki da and daisuki da we explained above, you should only say, "Suki yanen," to someone you’re romantically interested in or want to date; however, this phrase is certainly less serious and therefore makes for a much more lighthearted way of expressing your feelings for someone.
The pronunciation of suki yanen is pretty much how it looks, except with the suki part sounding more like the English "ski" (as explained above). Yanen is pronounced yah-nen.
- If the person you’re interested in is from Osaka or the Kansai region in general, it’s a safe bet to use the phrase suki yanen, especially if you’d rather express your feelings in a less serious way.
- Suki yanen is also the brand name of a popular ramen in Japan, so be aware that if someone is using this phrase, they might be talking about a type of noodle—not confessing their love for you!
4 Essential Tips for Saying, "I Love You," in Japanese
Now that we’ve gone over the four main ways you can say, "I love you," in Japanese, it’s time to give you some key tips on how to naturally express your love in this amazing language.
#1: When in Doubt, Use Suki da
Even though ai shiteru is arguably the word that is most similar to the English phrase "I love you," it’s rarely, if ever, said in Japanese to someone and isn’t used on a casual, everyday basis.
This is why, in general, if you’re hoping to express your love or romantic interest in someone, it’s best to go with either suki da or daisuki da, since these phrases are used a lot more often and entail a range of emotions, from a small crush to a big, passionate love for someone.
So if you’re ever in doubt, use a variation of suki da—and use ai shiteru sparingly or not at all.
#2: Err on Casual
Japanese differs from English in that it has several levels of formality you can use depending on the situation, the speaker, and the listener.
When saying, "I love you," in Japanese, you’ll likely be saying it to someone you know pretty well, so it makes sense to stick with the casual forms of the words above (all words are written in their casual forms already).
You’ll generally want to avoid using verbs in their masu ます form. It’s far more natural to say, "Ai shiteru," than it is to say, "Ai shiteimasu," or the slightly more formal version of "I love you." The only time you might use this form would be when you’re asking someone to marry you.
#3: Don’t Worry About Pronouns
If you’re new to Japanese, you might be confused by the phrases above, which don't contain any subjects, objects, or pronouns in them. The reason for this is that subjects and often objects are normally implied in the Japanese language. As a result, you don’t typically need to specify whom you love. As long as you’re looking at the person and saying the phrase directly, your intentions will be clear.
Even though Google Translate would literally translate the English phrase, "I love you" as "Watashi wa anata o ai shiteimasu 私はあなたを愛しています," wherein watashi means "I" and anata means "you," this is a very stiff, cluttered way of expressing your love in Japanese.
When it comes down to it, just focus on the verbs/adjectives, as these are what matter the most!
#4: Learn to Embrace Silence
As a final tip, remember that in Japanese culture—specifically when it comes to expressing feelings of love in Japanese—silence isn’t always bad. Often, it’s more natural than saying, "I love you."
If you’re the shy type and don’t like the idea of declaring your love so directly, you might be more successful at showing your emotions through charitable, romantic, and thoughtful actions. This is a pretty "Japanese" way of expressing love, so it’s certainly not abnormal.
On a similar note, if you tell your Japanese partner you love them and they don’t respond at all or simply say, "Thank you," don’t take the lack of an "I love you, too" personally. Silence doesn't necessarily mean they don’t love you back—just that saying "I love you" might not actually be the most natural action for them to take.
Got more questions about Japanese? Learn how to say, "Good morning!" in Japanese, plus nine other essential greetings.
Want to learn Italian, too? See how to say the most common Italian greetings with our guide!
Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.