You might’ve heard Japanese love words like… “ai,” “koi,” and “suki.”
Wondering what the ai Japanese meaning is, or what the koi Japanese meaning is?
And wondering what’s the difference?
In this guide, you’ll learn 15 love-related words, what makes each one different, and how it’s used. And yes, you’ll also learn the difference between ai, koi, and the rest of ’em.
Let’s jump in.
- 愛 (あい）
- Meaning: Love
Ai in Japanese means… love. What kind of love? A pure and intense love that applies to family and serious romantic relationships. It can be awkward if you use it in spoken Japanese because of how heavy and forward it is. Strong feelings like “love” are not said in Japan but shown through actions.
- 恋 (こい)
- Love (falling in love)
Koi is the initial feeling of love you feel when falling in love. Once you establish the relationship, most people would switch to the stronger word for love or ai. It can also have a meaning of longing for something or someone. When you first fall in love, you might feel like you can’t be with the person enough. You can express this best by using koi.
Difference between Ai (愛) and Koi (恋)
So, if you’re wondering what the difference is between ai and koi, just remember that koi is exclusively for romantic love. Ai is just pure, general love… which you can have towards family or a partner.
- 好き (すき)
A quick note: This word is pronounced as “ski” (like the winter sport) and “sookee” sounds weird.
This is one of the most common Japanese words for love.
Suki is less intense than ai, so you’ll find that it is the most common way to express “love” towards other people and things. It is casual, so you don’t have to worry that it will surprise people. You’ll often use suki in the form of suki desu, which can mean “I love you,” but less formally. If you put an object in front of suki desu, you can show that you like something. For example, “Kono eiga ga suki desu” would mean “I like this movie.”
- 愛する （愛する）
- To love
This is the verb-form of ai, which can be a term of endearment for romantic partners. You can put person or hito after aisuru to say “my love.” The most common way you’ll see this verb is in the form of aishiteru, which is how you say I love you in Japanese.
Like the word ai, make sure you don’t say this casually in daily Japanese conversation. You can say it only when you’re confident that you truly love your romantic partner. It can also apply to your close family members, but most people would feel too embarrassed to say it openly.
- 大好き (だいすき)
- Really like
Note: This is pronounced as “die” “ski.”
This is when you like something or someone very much. It’s still quite casual because it includes the word suki. You can use it in many contexts, but it can sound childish in formal situations. Make sure not to say it to your boss! Like suki, you can add desu to the end to show and express your love.
A hip way to say love in Japanese is rabu. However, this is super casual, and some people wouldn’t take you seriously. It is the Japanese spelling of the word “love” in English. You’ll find that rabu forms a part of other words in modern Japanese speech. For example, ラブホテル or rabu hoteru is a love hotel, and ラブシーン or rabu sheen is a romantic scene in a movie.
7) Rabu rabu
- Rabu rabu
- In love
You’ll hear rabu rabu in colloquial Japanese to describe romantic couples. They might be showing their affection publicly and seem to get along well. One thing about Japanese culture is that couples usually don’t show their love too publicly. You’ll likely only use rabu rabu when talking with your friends.
- 恋愛 (れんあい)
- Love (relationships)
Renai usually refers to relationships or being in love, and it’s is related to romantic feelings and attraction. You might use it to say that you want to be in a romantic relationship. For example, renai ga shitai would mean “I want to fall in love.”
- 愛情 (あいじょう)
- Love (giving love)
This is a type of love that you give to someone or something. It applies to people or things you care about, like your child or pet. You can also use it to show that you cooked or crafted something with love. In general, aijou is a quantified love that you can put into things.
Another English word that Japanese people like to use is romanchikku, and it is taken directly from the word “romantic.” Words in English can sound classy, and this would be perfect for a romantic date or dinner at a fancy restaurant.
11) Icha icha suru
- Icha icha suru
- To flirt
The word for flirting in Japanese is icha icha suru. It describes couples who publicly display their affection, and it’s similar to rabu rabu. However, icha icha leans towards a more extravagant public display of affection.
12) Renai taishou
- 恋愛対象 (れんあいたいしょう)
- Renai taishou
- Love interest
This word is used when you want to talk about whether someone is fit to be your romantic interest or not. It can be helpful when talking with your friends about whether you see someone as a potential partner or just a platonic relationship. If you’re not a renai taishou, you’ve been friend-zoned.
- 愛しい (いとしい)
- Love or cute
This is an old-fashioned way to say love or cute. Instead of romantic love, it is the caring kind of love you feel towards small things, children, or cute animals. It uses the kanji for ai, so it is still related to the feeling of pure love.
- 恋人 (こいびと)
This is the word for “lover.” Since it uses koi, it is someone you haven’t known for a long time and is more light-hearted. Koibito is not a serious romantic partner, and it can be more like a casual girlfriend or boyfriend.
15) Taisetsu ni suru
- 大切にする (たいせつにする)
- Taisetsu ni suru
- To care for and love
A popular way to display and say your love is by saying taisetsu ni suru. It means to care for and place as the most important. Instead of saying “I love you,” Japanese people might opt for words like this so that it is less intense but still meaningful.
Back to You!
Now you know the many kinds of Japanese words for love.
The Japanese language has a variety of other interesting words like… beautiful Japanese words if you click the link.
If you want to learn to say I love you in Japanese, then hit the link as well.
Anyway, which word was your favorite?
Leave a comment! I read them all.
– The Main Junkie