How Do You Write 'I Love You' in Japanese? A Classroom Exercise with Hiragana, Kanji and Katakana Examples

Page content

History of Writing ‘I Love You’ in Japanese

The script Hiragana was first developed so that high status women of the court could participate in the writing of love poetry and reply to the poems they received from their suitors. So, it seems natural that love would need to be expressed in writing. There are a few, although still limited means of saying ‘I love you’ in Japanese as this is not an idea that is commonly expressed or expressed daily in many relationships. The Japanese are more a culture of subtlety, or expressing themselves by non-verbal means.


By first explaining what love means in the context of the Japanese culture, students will more accurately be able to communicate the concept of love. By the end of the lesson students should be able to identify when and to whom it would be appropriate to say I love you and how to write this message out.

The Japanese are a culture that is very subtle and tend to express their love in ways that are not so obvious to the more physically affectionate Westerner. They also do not as readily say ‘I love you.’

however, currently pop culture has also adopted a way of saying ‘I love you’ in a lighthearted and friendly way which many girls will say to their girlfriends or those who have just begun to date can say to each other. This is written using katakana as it originates from the English word for love. In Japanese pronunciation, it would be spelled as rabu. As in gitaigo and giseigo, the phrase is repeated.


At the end of this lesson, students should be able to say ‘I love you’ in Japanese by correctly saying ‘ai shiteiru.’ They should also know when it would be appropriate to say it and to whom.

Writing ‘I Love You’ in Japanese

The most common way to say ‘I love you’ is ‘ai shiteru.’ Ai is the word for love and has a commonly used kanji to write it. Shiteru is the present continuous tense of the verb suru (to do). The first phrase is how one would write ‘ai shiteiru’ in its entirety including the kanji for love, or ai. Then, the kanji for love, or ai, is by itself.


Saying ‘Ai Shiteru’ to someone who is not ready to hear it or not used to hearing it may be scary, so do not say this to just anyone. It is also not a friendly form of love that you would say to a best friend, pet, or someone you care about. This is a phrase you would use in moments of strong feeling.

Notice that both of the kanji used when referring to love contain the kanji for heart, or ‘kokoro.’

Another word used for love is kou. This word/kanji in combination with the word hito for person becomes koibito, or a lover; however it is not often used to say the actual expression ‘I love you.’ The first kanji is the kanji for ‘ko’ or love. It is not usually used to say ‘I love you’ directly but is used in combination with the kanji for hito to make the word, koibito or lover as seen in the second example.

恋 恋人


Writing it in a poem may be just the appropriate way, although ironically Japanese poetry is geared more toward giving the allusion of love without saying it directly.

Practice giving students vignette situations in which they decide, based on their cultural knowledge, whether or not they would say ‘ai shiteru.’

Have them write some love poetry for good practice, remembering that the Japanese communicate love and other emotions often by using allusions instead of saying ‘I love you’ directly, and create a love poem anthology. The poems could use the title ‘ai shiteiru’ written in Japanese with the body giving examples of how the writer feels.

Have students also look at resources to see the way the word/phrase is written and what some less common alternatives can be at sites such as which will show the kanji, hiragana, and definition forms of the words.