In Japan, whether you’re sightseeing, trying on a kimono, or shopping for household decor, you’re bound to find something beautiful.
The most common words for ‘beautiful’ in Japanese are kirei (綺麗 / きれい), and utsukushii (美しい / うつくしい). However, the degree of beauty being described by each word is different. While kirei can be used on anything or anyone that is beautiful, utsukushii goes deeper than surface beauty.
So are there other ways to say ‘beautiful’ in Japanese? Yes! Let’s go through them one by one.
Beautiful, pretty; clean
Kirei (綺麗 / きれい) is a na-adjective that has two meanings: ‘beautiful’ and ‘clean’. Kirei is common in daily speech.
This word typically refers to the physical beauty or cleanliness of a person, object, or place. A beautiful kimono would be kirei na kimono (きれいな着物 / きれいなきもの), and a tidy room would be kirei na heya (きれいな部屋 / きれいなへや).
Kirei na hana wo arigatou!
きれいな はな を ありがとう！
Thank you for the beautiful flowers!
Daidokoro wo kirei ni shimashita.
だいどころ を きれい に しました。
I cleaned the kitchen.
As observed in the examples, kirei conjugates by adding na (な) after the adjective and before the noun being described. To say ‘is not’, simply add janai (じゃない) or de wa nai (ではない) instead.
Its kanji is difficult to write, so it is usually written in hiragana or katakana (きれい / キレイ), but print media like newspapers sometimes use the full kanji.
Beautiful, lovely, pure
Compared to kirei, utsukushii (美しい / うつくしい) only means one thing, ‘beautiful’. It can describe something lovely or pure, whether it is a person, object, place, or abstract idea.
However, it is more common in written rather than spoken Japanese. When conversing with others, saying ‘beautiful view’ as utsukushii keshiki (美しい景色 / うつくしけしき) sounds a bit unnatural compared to kirei na keshiki (きれいな景色 / きれいなけしき).
Utsukushii is reserved for describing things that move the heart. In other words, something that is beautiful inside and out. It has a nuance of ‘truly’ beautiful, so if you use this to describe a person, it is a very high compliment for them. Normally, people just use kirei or kawaii in situations like dating instead.
Kanojo wa utsukushii chou chou no you ni odorimashita.
かのじょ は うつくしい ちょうちょう の よう に おどりました。
She danced like a beautiful butterfly.
Mori ga zenshou shita kara, kotoshi no aki wa utsukushikunakatta.
もり が ぜんしょうした から、 ことし の あき は うつくしくなかった。
This year’s fall was not beautiful because the forest was completely burned down.
The word utsukushii is an i-adjective, so it conjugates differently than a na-adjective. The basic conjugation for affirmative is utsukushii (美しい). For the negative, drop the last i and add kunai (美しくない), e.g. utsukushi kunai.
Kawaii (可愛い / かわいい) is often translated to ‘cute’, but it also means ‘lovely’ or ‘pretty’! It has a broad set of definitions, which makes kawaii appropriate for casual conversations.
You can use kawaii to compliment your friends or on the first date with someone special. Sometimes, kirei or utsukushii may come off strong for the other person, so when you are unsure, kawaii is a nice and safe compliment.
Japanese find a lot of things kawaii – actions, little trinkets, fashion styles, and even words!
When your friend shows up sporting fashionable sunglasses, you can use kakkoii (かっこいい / カッコイイ) to compliment them! Kakkoii is typically translated as ‘cool’, but also has a broad set of definitions like ‘stylish’, ‘attractive’, or ‘good-looking’.
Kakkoii is usually written in either hiragana or katakana. You can use this to describe a handsome person, objects, physical features, or even one’s skills. Compared to most words in this list, kakkoii has a more masculine nuance, but it doesn’t mean you cannot use it for females!
The word bijin (美人びじん) is a noun used to refer to a beautiful person, often a woman. Unlike utsukushii, bijin talks about the physical appearance of a person rather than their character.
Similar words that describe beautiful people are bijo and ikemen.
Bijo (美女びじょ) literally means ‘beautiful woman’. Meanwhile, ikemen (イケメン) means ‘good-looking guy’. It is derived from the word iketeru (イケてる) which means ‘cool’ or ‘sexy’ and men (面 / メン), which means ‘face’ or ‘features’.
Other words like bishoujo (美少女 / びしょうじょ) and bishounen (美少年 / びしょうねん), which mean ‘beautiful woman’ and ‘beautiful man’, respectively, are prominent in pop culture. Lead characters in anime and manga are typically categorized as such.
The na-adjective suteki (素敵 / すてき) is also defined broadly. It means ‘lovely’, ‘wonderful’, or ‘cool’, and can be used to describe people, places, things, or experiences.
It can be similar to kakkoii, but unlike so, suteki can describe something as ‘lovely’ where kakkoii cannot. For example, you can say suteki na hito (素敵な人 / すてきなひと) because you admire somebody’s character.
Suteki is not limited to describing physical features. It also applies to the ‘inside’ loveliness of something. You can describe an experience like traveling abroad as suteki because you had a splendid time.
To describe something as ‘flawless’ or ‘perfect’, we have the adjective kanpeki (完璧 / かんぺき). This word can apply to people, objects, places, and performances.
For example, if someone pulls off a flawless performance of ‘Clair De Lune’, you can say ‘Kanpeki na piano ensou desu ne!’ (完璧なピアノ演奏ですね!), or ‘What a beautiful piano performance!’
The word subarashii (素晴らしい / すばらしい) means ‘wonderful’ or ‘splendid’. In the same sense as utsukushii, it can describe something that is deeply moving or fascinating. Subarashii can also be used for anything you find wonderful.
You might have heard the Japanese New Year’s phrase subarashii ichinen wo (素晴らしい一年を)! It translates to ‘I hope you have a great year!”
Jouhin (上品 / じょうひん) is another na-adjective that means ‘elegant’ or ‘sophisticated’. You might not hear this too often, unless you have a pretty luxurious lifestyle.
You can use jouhin to describe objects, places, somebody’s way of living, or even taste of certain food. What makes this word stand out is that jouhin is reserved for things that are of high-class quality, such as luxury items or posh places. Unlike kirei or kawaii, jouhin denotes some classiness to it.
A similar word is gouka (豪華 / ごうか), which means ‘extravagant’ or ‘lavish’, used to describe things that are on a higher level of fancy!
How to say beautiful in Japanese
Just how in English, we have many synonyms for beautiful (gorgeous, pretty, stunning, etc), there are many different Japanese words for beautiful! Choosing the best word for the situation will help you sound more fluent.
Now that you know the many ways to say ‘beautiful’ in Japanese, check out these beautiful, untranslatable Japanese words that are sure to move your heart!
Thea is a freelance content writer, currently majoring in Japanese studies. She likes to create art and draws inspiration from film and music. Thea was inspired to study Japanese language and culture by reading the literary works of Haruki Murakami and Edogawa Ranpo.