Love Confessions In Japanese: What To Say To Win Them Over

A Guide To Saying 'I Love You' In Japan Without Actually Saying It

By Hilary Keyes
July 19, 2018
Lifestyle, Relationships

Saying 'I love you' is not the words I want to hear from you.

Kokuhaku. So much more than a simple word, this two-kanji phrase has the power to start a new exciting life for you — or, sadly, put a period to your hopes and dreams of getting that special someone’s interest. Kokuhaku (告白) in Japanese literally means a “confession,” but not the one you’d share with a priest. No, the other one you’d rather whisper into someone’s ear, preferably in a romantic setting. If you’ve lived in Japan for some time now or have watched enough movies and anime, you’d know that informing someone of your attraction to them before asking them out is a common thing here, even among adults.

 If you have a crush on someone yourself and can’t wait to break the news to them, here are some useful tips and expressions that will help you tell your Japanese dreamboat how you feel, and hopefully, get them to say the same!

Love takes time… and proper wording

The part of the whole confession-making process that makes most people (in any language) nervous is what words to use to convey your feelings. Let’s start with the basics.

Hitomebore (一目惚れ) means “to fall in love at first sight” and might sound like a proper way to express your feelings toward someone, especially if you’re actually honest about falling in love instantly. (Does this happen in real life?!) However, according to most of my Japanese male friends, it actually seems to have the opposite effect with the guys. I asked as many Japanese guys as I could (I lost count after 20), and the general consensus was that, unless you two had been friends for a while, this word feels cliché. It is not recommendable to use it when you’re first expressing your love to someone, but if you two get in a relationship, by all means, tell them this later. They will be happy to hear it!

[Aishiteru] is tantamount to a kokuhaku suicide. 

Aishiteru (愛してる) — the big “I love you” — is never, ever meant to be part of a confession. “It’s tantamount to a kokuhaku suicide,” said one friend who also added that “saying that makes you sound like a stalker. It never works out well.” But you get that — I love you is not a typical phrase you’d say to someone you haven’t even started dating, is it?

As a non-native Japanese speaker, I’ve heard over and over again that suki (好き) means both “like” and “love” and that one needs to be especially careful when using it regarding people, lest others misunderstand your comments. Nevertheless, for a confession, the most basic and widespread phrase is “suki desu” (好きです, I like you), often followed up by “tsukiatte kudasai” (付き合ってください, please go out with me).

Sounds simple enough, right?

Not yet! While these terms are common in first-time (aka teenage) kokuhaku, as an adult you need to be a bit smoother and more original. Using an anime-like kokuhaku is just not going to cut it after age 18. So, here’s what you can say instead!

‘No time to waste’ romance vocabulary for emergencies  

If you’re a pretty frank person and know your perspective date well, the following are solid and very straightforward approaches:

  • 実は、(〇〇)が好きです。今度、ご飯でも行かない?
    Jitsu wa, (the person’s name) ga suki desu. Kondo, gohan demo ikanai?
    The thing is, I like you. Do you want to go grab dinner sometime?
  • 私たちは前から友達だけど、実は好きになった。
    Watashitachi wa mae kara tomodachi dakedo, jitsu wa suki ni natta.
    We’ve been friends for a while now, but, truth is, I’ve started to like you in a different way.
  • 実は、(〇〇) が前々から気になっている。もしよかったらデートしませんか?
    Jitsu wa (name) ga mae mae kara ki ni natteiru. Moshi yokattara de-to shimasen ka?
    The thing is, I’ve been interested in you for a while now, and I was wondering if you’d like to go on a date sometime?

If that special someone is a person you work with or if you’re out as a group but want to get to know someone specific a little better, you might want to try this less confession-y approach:

  • 帰りに一杯/コーヒーはどうですか?
    Kaeri ni ippai/ko-hi wa dou desuka?
    Would you like to stop for a drink/coffee on the way home?

Or maybe you want to ask them out to dinner:

  • 今度の(金曜日)一緒にご飯でも行きませんか?
    Kondo no kinyobi issho ni gohan demo ikimasenka?
    Would you like to have dinner together on (Friday)?

Or, try asking them to a location-based date — you can always add the romance aspect later!

  • 一緒に(東京ディズニーランド/新宿/お台場)にでも行かない?
    Issho ni (Tokyo Dizuniirando/Shinjuku/Odaiba) ni demo ikanai?
    Would you like to go to (Tokyo Disneyland/Shinjuku/Odaiba) together?

You could always go for the straight flirting route too, although you might just get a flustered response from your intended date. But, it’s worth a shot, right?

  • あなたはカッコイイ/ハンサム/スタイリッシュですね。飲みに行かない?
    Anata wa kakkoii/hansamu/sutairisshu desu ne. Nomi ni ikanai?
    You’re really cool/handsome/stylish. Want to go grab a drink?

You might have noticed that most of those phrases are rather indirect and hesitant, using vague words like “demo ikanai?” or the negative “ikimasenka.” Sometimes, there’s even no subject. In a Japanese cultural context, being vague when you’re testing the grounds is a normal thing. On the contrary, being too direct and specific might put pressure on the other person (unless they’re really into you already), so one piece of advice: be as vague as possible for the first try but also clearly imply that you like them and would like to have a one-on-one time soon.

Two outcomes: A date or rejection

After nervously voicing your kokuhaku, the only thing left to do is wait for the reaction of the party you confessed to — an acceptance or rejection.

Acceptance can be a simple “ii yo!” (いいよ, Sure), or “sou da ne, issho ni dokoka e ikou ka” (そうだね、一緒にどこかへ行こうか, Sure, let’s go somewhere), or, even a returned confession like “Honto ni? Ore/Watashi mo suki!” (本当に?俺/私も好き! For real? I like you too!).

Rejections could be as simple as the chilly “gomennasai” (ごめんなさい) which literally means “I’m sorry” but all it says is “not a chance.”

Listen for what, if anything, they say after that though — “gomen ne, chotto yotei ga aru” (ごめんね、ちょっと予定がある) just means they’re not free for when you asked, but could be on a different day. Which means you might have to ask then when they’re free (いつなら大丈夫?Itsu nara daijobu?). If they don’t give you a specific date and are vague about it, don’t push it further — it’s probably a lost cause.

If they tell you “Jitsu wa, tsukiatteru hito ga iru” (実は付き合ってる人がいるんだ), it means they’re already in a relationship and aren’t interested in you.

Kokuhaku: With or without it?

The idea of a kokuhaku itself has both fans and detractors. Fans are quick to point out that it’s the best way in which to see whether or not someone is interested and if you should allow those feelings to persist. On the other hand, detractors say that fears of rejection and heartbreak were reason enough to wait until a relationship developed on its own. Ultimately, the result of any kokuhaku can only tell you exactly what the person you’ve just confessed to feels about you, for better or worse.

Confessing your interest to the Japanese person of your dreams doesn’t have to be scary — there are plenty of women who have done it before. I’ve done it, and lived to tell the tale, so you can do it too.  I even have a story from a friend about how she used Japanese itself to confess:

“I had a crush on my Japanese tutor, and I wasn’t sure how to ask him out, so I googled how to tell someone you like them in Japanese, and wrote it down. I gave the paper to him and asked him to read it for me, which he did. Then I said ‘of course I will.’ He was really confused for a minute, but after reading it again, he laughed and we started dating soon after.” (Jean, American, 27)

It doesn’t matter how old you are, how cool you think you or the other person is, or even if you can speak the same language. The important part is being able to tell someone how you feel. 

In the end, however, it all comes down to being honest and sincere about your feelings. To borrow the words of a male friend of mine:

“It doesn’t matter how old you are, how cool you think you or the other person is, or even if you can speak the same language. The important part is being able to tell someone how you feel, and being mature enough to accept their answer, no matter what. If you can do that, then every kokuhaku is a success, even if you don’t start dating.” (Kota, 27).

How would you like to confess/be confessed to? Has this happened to you before? Share your stories in the comments below!


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