Lingual Ninja! - Japanese Lessons Online

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Oct 13, 2018

Japanese words for love - How to say "I love you"

Hello. I'm Kosuke!

In this article, let's learn how to say "love" in Japanese!

1. Summary

When you go to Japan, you might have a chance to get a Japanese girlfriend or boyfriend!

However, if you don't know how to say I love you in Japanese, you can't say how you are feeling to them!

Let's prepare using this article!

This is the most important article for you! hehe

2. "Ai" and "Koi"

There are two nouns for "love" in Japanese.

They are "Ai" and "Koi".

But their meaning is slightly different.

loveあいa i
loveこいko i

Let's check the difference!

2-1. Strength and Timing

Basically, "Ai" is stronger than "Koi".

However, when I googled it in Japanese, the difference is sometimes explained:

"Koi" is for oneself, and "Ai" is for someone.

I think this is one of the most understandable explanations.

For example, when a girl finds a cool guy, and when she hopes to be his girlfriend, it is "Koi".

If a woman wakes up early, and prepares her husband's lunch box every morning, it is because of "Ai".

When we hear "Koi", it's like "hoping to be the person's girlfriend or boyfriend".

It is not for the person whom you like.
Hoping to be a girlfriend or boyfriend is the person's desire.
So it is for themselves.

Also, "Koi" is often used amongst young people because getting a boyfriend or girlfriend is mainly an issue for young people.

On the other hand, "Ai" is like "hoping for someone to be happy".
So "Ai" is mainly for someone else.

In addition to that, I think we can use "Ai" only when we know about the person very well.

If we use "Ai" when we first meet the person, it sounds a little strange.

However, we can use "Koi" when we first meet a nice person.

Generally, "Koi" slowly becomes "Ai" by being together for a long time.

2-2. Target

The targets of "Ai" and "Koi" are different.

Basically, "Koi" can be used only for the opposite sex.

However, "Ai" is used more generally.

For example, a mother's love to her child is "Ai".

However, "Koi" can't be used for that.

Basically, "Koi" is only between male and female.

3. How to say "I love you"

"Ai" and "Koi" are Japanese nouns for "love".

So what should you say, when you want to use "love" as a verb?

3-1. Aishiteru 

To say "I love you" in Japanese, please remember one sentence:

a i shi te ru

It means "I love you".

"shiteru" or "shiteiru" means "doing".
So "Ai-shiteru" means "I am loving".

Therefore, this sentence is used for saying "I love you" in Japanese.

It includes the word "Ai", so this word includes a strong meaning.

This word is only used when they already know each other well.

If you have a Japanese boyfriend or girlfriend, please use this sentence on them!

3-2. Koishiteru? 

As we learned above, "Aishiteru" is a strong way to say "I love you".
So if we use "Koi" instead of "Ai", can we say "I love you" more easily?

Actually, "Koi-shiteru" is also correct Japanese.

However, the way to use it is a little different from "Aishiteru".

We can say "Aishiteru" to the person whom we love.

However, we don't say "Koishiteru" to someone directly.

The way to use "Koishiteru" is like:

わたしは かれに こいしてる。
wa ta shi wa ka re ni ko i shi te ru

Meaning: "I like him."

わたし: I
かれに: him

When you use "Koishiteru", you need to say the object.

If you say only "Koishiteru" to someone whom you like, they will say:
"Who do you like?"

However, if you say the object explicitly, you can use "Koishiteru" as "I love you":

わたしは あなたに こいしてる。
wa ta shi wa a na ta ni ko i shi te ru

Meaning: "I am loving you."

あなたに: you (object)

This is a not so common way to say "I love you" in Japan.

However, I think this is a witty and poetic way!

Please try this if you have a person whom you want to say "I love you" to.

I think you will succeed!

3-3. Suki

If you want to say "I like you", "Suki" is the most common way.

You can directly say "Suki" to a person whom you like.

The strength of "Suki" is similar to "Koishiteru".

Therefore, "Suki" is weaker than "Aishiteru".

Grammatically, "Suki" is one of na-adjectives.
So if you want to say "I like you" politely, you can put "desu" after "Suki".

If you don't know "desu", please check this:
  desu >>

su ki de su

Meaning: "I like you. (polite)"

This is a very good phrase to say "I like you"!
Please use!

3-4. Daisuki

There is a stronger phrase than "Suki".

It is:

da i su ki

If we write it in Kanji, it's

What is Kanji? >>

"大(dai)" means "big".

So "Daisuki" means "I strongly like you".

"Daisuki" is stronger than "Suki".

However, it is still weaker than "Aishiteru".

As well as "Suki", you can put "desu" after "Daisuki".

da i su ki de su

Meaning: "I strongly like you. (polite)"

This is very good phrase for you to say "I like you" or "I love you" to someone!

3-5. Shindemo ii?

There is a very famous Japanese TV drama, named "Kimpachi-sensei".

Kimpachi-sensei is a teacher, and he teaches his students about the Japanese language and the philosophy of life.

In the drama, he taught his students about the meaning of "I love you".

He said, it means:
"あなたの ためなら しんでも いい。"
 a na ta no ta me na ra shi n de mo i i"

It means
"It is OK for me to die if it is for you".

Actually, I am not sure if their meaning is the same...
What do you think!?

If we want to use this sentence, I think we need to choose the situation carefully!
Sometimes, this sounds scary...

4. Culture

Let me talk about Japanese culture regarding "I love you".

I think Japanese people generally don't say "I love you" so often.

I feel this when I talk with my wife, who is American.

She said her mother sometimes says "I love you" to her.

When I told her that my parents have never said "I love you" to me, she was surprised.

I think my friends' parents don't say it, either...

If my mother says "I love you" to me, it is a little creepy for me...hehe

Of course, between a boyfriend and a girlfriend, they often say "Suki" or "Daisuki".

However, "Aishiteru" is not used so often in Japan.

Maybe it depends on the country.

What is your country's culture?

5. Conclusion

"Ai" and "Koi" means "love" in Japanese!

"Ai" is stronger than "Koi"!

"Koi" is used only between male and female!

"Ai" is in general!

When you want to say "I love you" in Japanese:

"Aishiteru" is the strongest!

"Daisuki" is stronger than "Suki", but weaker than "Aishiteru"!

"Suki" is not so strong, but is often used in Japan!

I hope this article helps you to study Japanese!
Please enjoy studying Japanese!


  1. Wait so koi only works for romantic love if it's heterosexual?

    1. Maybe yes...!
      "Koi" is only for the boyfriend or girlfriend thing.
      I think it's also applicable for homosexual people.

      "Koi" can become "Ai" slowly!
      "Ai" can be romantic too, but we can use "Ai" for many other situations if it's deep love.