Ah… those three little words ❤
Some people have called ‘I love you’ the most powerful three words in the English language.
It’s also one of the most common phrases people want to learn in a foreign language.
So, how do you say I love you in Japanese?
It might not surprise you to know that confessing your love in Japanese is a little bit more complicated than English.
Let’s take a look at the different ways to say it!
I love you
The most literal way to say ‘I love you’ in Japanese is ai shiteru (愛してる / あいしてる ), or ai shiteru yo for emphasis. This is the phrase you might know from anime or textbooks.
The kanji character ai (愛) means love. If you can already read some kanji – and you have good eyesight – you might recognise the character for heart (心 / kokoro) snuggled up at the centre of the character for love. Ahh, sweet!
Ai suru (愛する / あいする) is the verb to love. It combines the noun ai (love) with the verb suru, to do. Ai shiteru is the usual way to say ‘I love you’ in the present tense. (Shiteru means ‘am doing’, so you can think of ai shiteru as ‘I’m doing love’, if it helps you to remember!)
Yo (よ) is a particle used at the end of sentences for emphasis. You don’t have to say this, but it can sound more casual and natural.
There is also the more formal form, ai shiteimasu (愛しています / あい しています ). Realistically, this is rarely used. After all, if you’re ready to declare your love for someone, you’re probably close enough to use casual language!
But in actual fact, none of these are the most usual way to express your love in Japanese.
Ai is a very strong word in Japanese. It refers to a deep, long lasting and romantic love.
Usually you would only say ai shiteru yo to a person you feel a very deep commitment to. It’s the sort of thing you would say to your life partner when you are ready to get married.
Even then, married couples don’t say this to each other regularly. It just sounds too heavy and formal.
Some people might only say ai shiteru a few times in a lifetime. For example, when they propose, and when they are dying! You definitely wouldn’t say ai shiteru to somebody you are dating casually.
So what can you say instead?
I like you, I love you
You may have learned that suki (好き / すき) means ‘like’.
And you would be right! Suki can be translated as like, but it can also mean love. It depends a lot on the context.
Think of it this way: love is a nuanced thing. There are many different kinds of love, and many different ways to express your love in English too – I love you, I adore you, I’m in love with you, I’m crazy about you….
The love you feel for your boyfriend or girlfriend is different from the love you feel for your parents, your BFF, your pet cat, or for matcha choc chip ice cream.
Suki is the most usual and natural way to express like, love or adoration for someone or something in Japanese.
Remember that Japanese people are often not so expressive with words as some other cultures. The real meaning depends on the context.
So suki! on a first date probably doesn’t mean that somebody wants to marry you and have babies straight away. It means they like you, and they want to see more of you.
But suki desu said in a tender moment in a long term relationship can mean ‘I love you’ in the way that we usually mean it in English.
Suki is often used to let someone know you’re interested in them, and you want to take your relationship to the next level. So don’t say it to a casual friend unless you have romantic feelings for them!
You can also add different endings for emphasis. Here are some variants:
- suki (好き) – casual, more feminine
- suki desu (好きです) – more polite, neutral
- suki da (好きだ) – more masculine
- suki da yo (好きだよ) – more masculine
- suki yo (好きよ) – more feminine
- suki yanen! (好きやねん) – Kansai dialect (but widely understood all over Japan). Sounds fun and jokey.
By the way, suki is also the way to say you ‘like’ anything, even inanimate objects.
So you can say:
- nihon ga suki desu (日本が好きです) – I like Japan.
- piza ga suki (ピザが好き) – I like pizza.
I really like you, I love you
Daisuki (大好き / だいすき) means ‘really like’ or ‘like a lot’.
The kanji 大 (dai) means big. And 好き (suki) means like, as we already saw above. So daisuki literally means ‘big like’… cute, right?
Daisuki can be translated as ‘I love you very much’ or ‘I really like you’. It’s a way to really emphasis your feelings for the other person.
Again, you can add different endings for nuance and emphasis. So daisuki yo is more feminine, while daisuki da yo is a more masculine way to say I love you in Japanese.
Actions speak louder than words (don’t say I love you!)
As we already mentioned, Japanese people don’t actually say ‘I love you’ as much as some other cultures.
Some English speakers end every phone call to their partner with ‘I love you’. This kind of thing would be very rare in Japan.
It’s not that Japanese couples love each other less than Western couples… they just don’t feel the need to say it out loud so much! In a marriage or family, your commitment to each other should go without saying.
Some people even think that expressions of love become less meaningful if you say them too often.
In Japan, actions truly speak louder than words. You can show your love a thousand times each day in the small actions you perform to take care of your lover.
In fact, one traditional phrase used to propose in Japanese is:
Ore no misoshiru wo tsukutte kurenai
おれ の みそしる を まいあさ つくってくれない
Will you make my miso soup every morning?
It might not sound very romantic at first glance. But think about making a commitment to being there for your darling every morning for the rest of your life, and having someone to look after you too and share everyday life with.
Photo credit: Jeremy Wong Weddings
That said, the miso soup line is considered a bit outdated these days, and most modern Japanese girls would laugh at you if you said that! Still, it’s interesting to think about the culture behind the words.
How to say ‘I love you too’ in Japanese
Perhaps your Japanese sweetheart has already confessed their love, and now it’s your turn to respond!
The simplest way to respond to ‘I love you’ in Japanese would be simply watashi mo (私も / わたし も), meaning ‘me too’.
Of course, you can also use one of these other words for ‘I’ in Japanese. Boku or ore are more natural if you’re a guy.
The easiest way to say ‘I love you too’ in Japanese is to repeat back the expression they said to you, but with watashi/boku/ore mo in front.
So for example, if your partner says:
Ai shiteru yo!
I love you, you know.
A common way to reply ‘I love you too’ is:
Watashi (fem.) / boku (masc.) mo ai shiteru yo.
私 / 僕 も愛してる
わたし / ぼく も あいしてる
I love you too.
More love phrases in Japanese
Here are some more romantic phrases you can use to express your love in Japanese!
Just remember, Japanese people don’t tend to express their love verbally as much as in the west. Although you may hear these love phrases in popular culture, you could make your Japanese partner uncomfortable if you use them too casually!
I miss you
Aitai literally means ‘I want to see you’ or ‘I want to meet you’. This is how to say ‘I miss you’ in Japanese.
I yearn/long for you
Koishii means longing or yearning. If you tell someone this, it means ‘I miss you very much’ in Japanese. You can also use this in a non-romantic way, for example to express your yearning for your hometown or a dish from your childhood.
Anata ni muchuu desu
I’m crazy about you
Muchuu means crazy about, obsessed with or completely absorbed in. This phrase is often heard in Japanese dramas but sounds a little, well, dramatic in everyday life!
Watashi no koto suki?
Do you love me?
Is your Japanese partner not saying ‘I love you’ enough for your liking? This is a cutesy way to get a response! If you’re a boy, replace watashi with boku. It still sounds a little childish or playful, though.
Honto ni suki da yo
I really love you
You can say ‘I really love you’ in Japanese by adding 本当に (honto ni – really, truely) to any of the above phrases. Another word you can add for emphasis is とても (totemo – really, very). For example you could say とても好きだ (totemo suki da).
Mada suki da
I still like you/love you
Do you need to know how to say ‘I still love you’ in Japanese, perhaps after a fight? Mada suki da will reassure your loved one.
Itsu made mo ai shiteru yo
I will always love you
If you’re feeling super romantic you might want to tell your partner ‘I will always love you’.
As with many of the other expressions on this list, it is not usual to express such strong emotion in Japanese, and you wouldn’t be likely to hear it outside of an extreme situation such as a proposal! However, you might hear this in a drama or anime for dramatic effect.
Here are some other ways to say ‘I will always love you’ in Japanese:
- Itsumo ai shiteru (いつも愛している )
- Zutto suki yo (ずっと好きよ)
- Watashi wa kimi wo itsumade mo ai shiteru (私は君をいつまでも愛してる) – this is how Whitney Houston’s iconic song is translated into Japanese!
Will you go out with me?
So you’ve had your eye on that special someone, you’ve screwed up all your courage and you’re ready to make them yours! It’s time to tell them tsukiatte kudasai. This can also be translated as ‘will you be my girlfriend/boyfriend?’ Or ‘will you date me?’
In Japanese you would usually ask this after telling someone you like them for the first time. This is known as kokuhaku (告白 / こくはく), which means ‘confession’. A typical kokuhaku would go like this:
Suki desu. Tsukiatte kudasai!
すき です。 つきあって ください。
I like you. Will you go out with me?
Zutto issho ni itai
I want to be with you forever.
This romantic Japanese phrase can sound similar to a proposal, so use with caution!
Kekkon shite kudasai
Will you marry me?
Ready to make the ultimate commitment? Kekkon shite kudasai is the most common way to propose in Japanese.
FAQs on love in Japanese
Now you can say I love you in Japanese!
Have you ever said ‘I love you’ in Japanese? Which phrase do you prefer? Let us know in the comments!
Want to learn more Japanese to talk to your girlfriend or boyfriend? Our recommended language course is JapanesePod101. You’ll learn natural, everyday Japanese in a fun and easy way. It even has a 73-lesson pathway called ‘Talking With Your Japanese Partner‘!
- Japanese Terms Of Endearment: Cute Nicknames for Lovers and Friends!
- How to Say Girlfriend in Japanese (5 Different Ways)
- How to Say Boyfriend in Japanese
Rebecca is the founder of Team Japanese. She spent two years teaching English in Ehime, Japan. Now back in the UK, she spends her time blogging, self-studying Japanese and wrangling a very genki toddler.