One of the most used Japanese phrases in romantic anime, manga, movies, and Japanese dramas is “Aishiteru“. But while it is fairly easy to translate the phrase into English words, its true meaning is so much deeper. After living in Japan for several years I finally understood what “Aishiteru” really means in Japanese and why it is hardly ever used in real life.
The literal translation of “Aishiteru” (愛してる) is “I love you” or “I’m in love with you”. But it expresses such a sincere and deep love that Japanese only use it in long-term relationships with their spouse and very emotional situations such as getting married or when someone is on their death bed.
This might be surprising but most couples – even married ones – will never use this phrase to say “I love you” in Japanese. If you want to confess your feelings or express your love to someone, there are better ways and phrases to do so. So let’s take a look at how the Japanese really convey their love and how to say “I love you, too”.
The Meaning of “Aishiteru” in Japanese
愛 (ai) is the Japanese word for “love” and 愛する (aisuru) means “to love“. If we break it down even further we actually have the word for love 愛 (ai) and the verb する (suru) which means “to do“.
してる (shiteru) or している (shiteiru) is the present continuous form of する (suru) and translates as “doing” or “is doing“. So if you translate the phrase 愛してる (aishiteru) to English in its most literal way it actually means “loving” or “am loving“.
Unlike in English, the words “I” and “you” are implicit and therefore not needed. Omitting the subject and even the object is a very common practice in everyday Japanese and while it might feel counter-intuitive adding them will just make you sound unnatural.
So with the phrase 愛してる (aishiteru) you literally say “(I) am loving” but the message you convey and the meaning is “I love you“. The other variations you might have heard of 愛している (aishiteiru) and 愛しています (aishiteimasu) are more formal but mean exactly the same.
- 愛 (ai) means “love”
- 愛する (aisuru) means “to love”
- 愛してる (aishiteru) means “I love you”
- 愛している (aishiteiru) and 愛しています (aishiteimasu) are more formal versions but they mean the same “I love you”
However, this is such an exceptionally romantic way to express your feelings and the phrase has such a profound meaning that you will frequently come across it in movies, anime, and song lyrics, but you will rarely or probably never ever hear it in a real-life situation.
If you want to confess or express your love in Japanese it is better to use 好き (suki) 大好き (daisuki). Daisuki literally translates as “like very much” but it is a common phrase when someone wants to convey their feelings of love verbally.
You can read more about the difference between suki vs daisuki in my blog post 5 Ways to Say “I Like You” in Japanese. It’s also a good read to learn the phrases you should use to express “I like you (in a romantic way)” and “I like you (as a friend)“.
When to Use “Aishiteru” in Japanese
The Japanese phrase 愛してる (aishiteru) conveys such sincere and deep feelings for one another that it is only used when you declare your serious love in a long-term and permanent relationship.
This already becomes evident when you take a look at the grammar of the Japanese phrase. In English, we say “I love you” while in Japanese, the present continuous form “loving” is used to emphasize the ongoing (ever-lasting) state of the feelings.
So you can use the phrase for example when you want to say “I love you” to your wife or husband. But you would not use it with your girlfriend or boyfriend, especially if you have just started dating. As I mentioned before, in this situation, it is more common to say “Daisuki”. Here’s my article covering the meaning of the Japanese word “daisuki” in detail.
What might surprise is that even married couples will rarely use these words to express their love. One of my Japanese friends told me that the one and only time she said 愛してる (aishiteru) to her husband was on the day of their wedding when they exchanged the rings during their marriage ceremony.
This sounds utterly unromantic, I know, but there are actually some really interesting cultural reasons and beautiful thoughts behind this. I will explain why in a second, but there is one more situation I want to mention before we move on.
When you are parting ways with a dear friend or when a beloved one is on their death bed you can say or might hear the phrase 愛してる (aishiteru), too. In this situation, the phrase becomes an affectionate final goodbye that expresses one’s deep love and respect for that very person.
– Only Use “Aishiteru” –
- in a long-term and permanent relationship
- for your husband/wife
- on your wedding day or similarly emotional occasions
- when parting ways with someone dear for a long time
- as a final goodbye on someone’s death bed
Why Japanese Hardly Ever Say “Aishiteru”
In contrast to other cultures, especially the ones in the west, Japanese people tend to be more reserved about their feelings and they do not say “I love you” on a regular basis. Neither to family members nor to friends or their better half.
Instead Japanese prefer a more subtle way of expressing their feelings and usually convey their love in a nonverbal way through actions. In a similar way to how the Japanese phrase 愛してる (aishiteru) implies an ongoing state and action, Japanese people rather act love than speak love.
Mothers, for example, express their love for their children through beautifully arranged and healthy Bentos (boxed lunch). Friends might make a detour, sometimes even by train, just to spend some more time together after school, and each couple will have their very own way of acting love.
My married friend for example who lives in the countryside expresses her love for her husband through cooking, too. She doesn’t really like cooking and she was really horrible at it when they got married. But for him, she tried her best every day and got better and better at it.
Another friend of mine who lives in Tokyo gets small but meaningful presents from her husband nearly every week or every other week. While she, on the other hand, spends a lot of her free time planning fun family trips and events so that they can have a lot of quality time together.
The beautiful idea behind this is that if you have a relationship so profound that you could actually use the 3 special words “I love you”, or well the one special word in Japanese 愛してる (aishiteru), there is no need for it. The love for one another is mutually understood without explicitly stating it.
Personally, I think this way of conveying one’s love is so much more meaningful and romantic than just uttering the words “I love you”. Actions speak louder than words, don’t you agree?
How Do You Respond to “Aishiteru”?
First of all, if somebody uses the phrase 愛してる (aishiteru) to say “I love you”, congratulations. Now that you know how much this Japanese word actually means I am pretty sure you also want to know how you can respond in an appropriate way and say “I love you, too”.
When someone says 愛してる (aishiteru) to you in Japanese, it is common to respond with 私も愛してる (watashi mo aishiteru) which means “I love you, too”. You can also express your gratitude and happiness first by saying ありがとう (arigatou, thank you) or 愛されて嬉しい (aisarete ureshii, thanks for loving me).
You can also add a little bit more emphasis by adding yo 私も愛してるよ (watashi mo aishiteru yo) which is best translated by just adding an exclamation mark “I love you, too!“. Or you could also respond with 私もあなたをとても愛してるよ (watashi mo anata o totemo aishiteru yo) which means “I really love you, too!“.
- Watashi mo aishiteru.
I love you, too.
- Watashi mo aishiteru yo.
I love you, too!
- Arigatou. Watashi mo aishiteru.
Thank you. I love you, too.
- Aisarete ureshii. Watashi mo aishiteru yo.
Thanks for loving me. I love you, too.
- Watashi mo anata o totemo aishiteru yo.
I really love you, too.
However, always remember how serious and profound 愛してる (aishiteru) already sounds. So I would be a bit careful with adding too much emphasis and highly recommend you not to overdo it with your answer. Or otherwise, it will just make you sound fake or insincere.
Last but not least, I have one more recommendation and piece of advice for you, especially for the women among you.
If a Japanese guy goes out of his way and really says “Aishiteru” to you, I personally would never respond with just 大好き (daisuki) or even 好き (suki). The other way around it might be okay, but as a woman, I would at least match the phrase and its profoundness by also using 愛してる (aishiteru).