Looking for some romantic and inspirational quotes about love? Why not turn to the wisdom of Japanese!
A proverb, or kotowaza (諺 / ことわざ) in Japanese, is a short, simple saying which intends to provide wisdom and/or insight. They can be really helpful in times where you may need guidance in life.
As discussed in our previous post about Japanese quotes, kotowaza can be categorised into three groups:
- Iinarawashi (言い習わし / いいならわし): short sayings
- Kanyouku (慣用句 / かんようく): idiomatic phrases
- Yojijukugo (四字熟語 / よじじゅくご): four-character idioms
In this post, we will look at some of the most popular Japanese quotes relating to ‘love’.
So, if you’re looking for advice, direction or motivation in the love department, you’ve come to the right place!
We’ll start by talking about some Japanese kotowaza which date back to old Japan, and have been passed on by centuries to today to become folk wisdom.
I also want to mention a more modern interpretation of Japanese love quotes which come in the catchy form of love songs!
Famous Japanese love proverbs
As proverbs are generally metaphorical and poetic, I have provided an explanation behind the expressions and how they may be interpreted, but of course everyone can decipher them in their own ways.
惚れた病に薬なし (There is no medicine for lovesickness)
Horeta yamai ni kusuri nashi
- Horeru (惚れる / ほれる) – a verb meaning ‘to fall in love’
- Yamai (病 / やまい) – sickness / illness
- Kusuri (薬 / くすり) – medicine
- Nashi (なし) – none / nil
Horeta yamai ni kusuri nashi (惚れた病に薬なし / ほれたやまいにくすりなし) is one of the most well-known love quotes in Japanese. As you can tell by the breakdown, it is quite straightforward in terms of meaning.
‘Lovesickness’ is a worldwide phenomenon, and tends to occur when we cannot be with the person we are infatuated with, leading to a sad, pining feeling. This can be due to a breakup, unrequited love, or simply being away from your partner.
Unfortunately – as stated by this ancient proverb, even in this modern age, there is no medicine which can rid such ‘lovesickness’.
Perhaps, this proverb is circulated in order to help those afflicted come to terms with this harsh reality. Knowing that you can’t expect a quick fix, and encourage you to find other ways to heal.
痘痕も靨 (Love is blind)
Abata mo ekubo
- Abata (痘痕 / あばた) – facial scars/pockmarks, often due to acne
- Mo (も) – also/too
- Ekubo (靨 / えくぼ) – dimples
The literal translation for abata mo ekubo (痘痕も靨 / あばたもえくぼ) would be ‘Facial scars are dimples too’.
Abata refers to facial scarring but can really pertain to any ‘imperfection’ which may cause one to feel insecure or less beautiful.
Dimples, or ekubo, are often heralded as an attractive or cute facial feature in Japan and are even thought to symbolize good luck.
Aside from its literal meaning, this kotowaza can be seen as the equivalent to ‘love is blind’ in English.
This phrase highlights the fact that if you love someone, everything about them is beautiful to you, even flaws. Love is not skin deep!
異体同心 (Different bodies, one heart)
- I (異 / い) – different / unusual
- Tai (体 / たい) – body
- Dou (同 / どう) – same
- Shin (心 / しん) – heart
As we see from the breakdown above, itai doushin (異体同心 / いたいどうしん) means exactly what it says! This particular proverb is an example of yojijukugo, a four kanji compound creating an idiom.
With regards to love, Itai doushin alludes to the idea of soulmates. That two people from different walks of life may find love together, share hearts and become united as one.
恋とせきとは隠されぬ (Both love and coughs cannot be hidden)
Koi to seki to wa kakusarenu
- Koi (恋 / こい) – love
- Seki (せき) – cough
- Kakusareru (隠される / かくされる) – to be able to hide (potential verb)
Note that the nu (ぬ) comes from old Japanese speech and is a negative suffix. In today’s speech, we would use nai (ない).
This kotowaza pretty much means what it says! I’m sure you know that feeling when you’re in public and your tickly throat causes you to let out a cough you’ve been trying to suppress… Well, love is quite similar!
Try as you might to hide your feelings, if you have love and care for someone, it is sure to show itself in your actions.
旅は道連れ世は情け (In traveling, a companion; in life, compassion)
Tabi wa michizure yo wa nasake
- Tabi (旅 / たび) – journey
- Michizure (道連れ / みちづれみちづれ) – travel companion
- Yo (世 / よ) – world, society (life)
- Nasake (情け / なさけ) – compassion
Tabi wa michizure yo wa nasake (旅は道連れ世は情け / たびはみちずれよはなさけ) can be understood as meaning: ‘as important it is to have company when traveling, it is of the same importance to have compassion in life’.
Although not exclusively romantic in meaning, it definitely makes sense as a love quote. Having a loved one by your side can make all the difference in making it through the journey that is life.
Popular Japanese group Official HIGE DANdism (Official髭男dism), have a song based on this proverb, titled tabi wa michizure, which was released in 2019.
What other Japanese songs can we find inspiration for love from?
Japanese love quotes from love songs
Although we may not realise it, many of our favourite catchy tunes are actually deep and meaningful love songs. Think of it as putting a melody behind old proverbs.
These days, when we feel we need inspiration or comfort, we often turn to music. Song lyrics can convey just as much meaning as the proverbs we previously discussed.
Let’s take a look at some of the most well-known love songs in Japan and see what kind of romantic quotes are hidden in plain sight!
Nakajima Miyuki – Ito (糸) (1992)
If you were to play this song to a Japanese person they would instantly recognise the iconic voice of Nakajima Miyuki, a popular singer from the 80s.
Her songs have appeared in many movies, dramas and anime and have been covered by other well known artists over the years.
Her song ito (糸 / いと), meaning ‘string’ or ‘yarn’, is actually a very popular wedding song choice for many Japanese couples!
The song depicts weaving as a metaphor for love. One person is the weft (the yarn woven across the width of the fabric) and the other, the warp (the fabric woven across the length of the fabric). Through the two lovers crossing paths and coming together, a love blossoms, creating a beautiful and delicate interwoven tapestry.
Tate no ito wa anata
Yoko no ito wa watashi
Au beki ito ni dearu koto wo
Hito wa shiawase to yobimasu
You are the weft
I am the warp
To be able to meet the thread you are meant to meet
Is what people call happiness
Utada Hikaru – First Love (1999)
Utada Hikaru is another influential and highly successful singer in Japan. If you ask a Japanese person what they might listen to in order to get through a heartbreak, they may very well answer with her song, ‘First Love’.
As the name suggests, the song details the feelings one goes through when a relationship with a first love ends, and how that person and those memories stay with you forever.
Interestingly, the singer incorporates both English and Japanese into the lyrics.
You are always gonna be my love
Itsuka dareka to mata koi ni ochitemo
You are always gonna be my love
You are always gonna be my love
Even if I eventually fall in love with someone else
Aimyon – Marigold (2019)
This is a more recent love song. When I was in Japan for my studies, this song was played non stop on the radio! But, admittedly a beautiful song, relatable and a popular karaoke choice!
The lyrics paint a picture of the happiness felt by being loved and to love. In particular, the lyrics and melody alike express the beauty and purity of young love.
The lyrics not only appeal to those currently experiencing ‘young love’ but also to older people who can listen and reminisce on this sweet time in their life.
Ai rabu yuu no kotoba ja
Tarinai kara kisu shite
The words ‘I love you’ are not enough
So kiss me
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Hannah is a half Irish/half Japanese girl living in Ireland. Her love for Japan and the Japanese language led her to studying languages and translation in university where she specialised in Japanese. She spent a year studying abroad at Rikkyo University in Tokyo. In her free time, Hannah enjoys using her sewing machine to upcycle clothes and create new pieces!