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9 reasons why Japanese men hesitate to say 'I love you'

47 Comments
By Krista Rogers

Whenever someone asks me, “How do you say ‘I love you’ in Japanese?” I’m always at a loss for what to say. In short, there is no good Japanese equivalent. Textbooks and other resources will tell you to say "ai shiteru," but in reality this phrase is used very rarely due to cultural and linguistic differences. You would never throw it around casually throughout the day to your friends or family in the way that English speakers use “I love you.” More appropriate perhaps is the phrase "suki da," which translates roughly to a strong “I like you” in a platonic or romantic sense. Either way, the specific connotations of each saying get lost in translation.

Enter Sugoren, a Japanese dating advice site. Earlier this year they conducted an online survey asking 165 bachelors in their teens and twenties to provide reasons why they don’t say "ai shiteru" to their girlfriends. Based on the results, they were able to compile a list of nine common patterns that prevent men from saying "ai shiteru." If you’re dating a Japanese man and have yet to hear the fabled words, you may find yourself in one of the situations below.

1) “I don’t want to use it lightly”

Men who provided this reason on the survey mentioned that they only want to use this saying in very specific, formal cases. As briefly mentioned before, it packs much more weight and formality than our English “I love you” and is not something to be said carelessly. Therefore, men are waiting for the right time and place so that it will have that much more meaning to it.

2) “I’m too shy to say it”

Japanese men tend to be on the shy side compared to men in other countries. That means that they may have a harder time directly expressing their feelings, especially when it comes to declarations of love. As one man on the survey wrote: “It’s just, well, I’m too shy to say it!” If you sense that this is the case with your man, don’t drive him into a corner, but stay by his side until he’s ready to say it.

3) “It’s too soon”

Even if everything is going smoothly, men may hesitate to say such a loaded statement if it’s only been a few weeks since you started dating. After all, you’re still learning new things about each other, and such a declaration may cause the relationship to take an awkward turn. There’s no need to rush, so wait until you get to know each other more before taking things up to the next level.

4) “Suki da feels more natural”

This reason is interesting because it sheds light on how the media can influence people’s actions. Several men commented on the fact that women often see characters in books or on TV saying "ai shiteru," and consequently may hold unrealistic expectations that men in real life will do the same. However, real men are not comic book characters, nor are they comfortable enough to throw the words around in the real world like they do in a drama. "Suki da" suits them better for expressing their feelings.

5) “Cool guys don’t fall in love”

Certain types of men, such as the three Bs that one of our writers wrote about the other day (band members, bartenders, and hair stylists ("biyoshi"), may not want to shed their cool guy image by falling hopelessly in love and proclaiming their feelings to the world. Do tough guys who go around saying “I love you” lose some of their masculinity in your eyes?

6) “What is love?”

Some men who took the survey, especially the younger ones, felt too inexperienced to know whether what they felt was really love or not. Therefore, they don’t want to toss out the "ai shiteru" until they have a better idea of what love truly is. Let’s give them some more time to contemplate the issue.

7) “I don’t want to flatter her too much”

Yep, it’s just like it says above – many guys don’t want to say it because they think the girl will get an inflated ego. Plus, saying it over and over again may cause it to lose some of its initial charm. Others pointed out that they would feel as if they are lowering their guards by being the first one to say it. So maybe if all the ladies were willing to step up to the plate first, their men would reciprocate.

8) “It would be a lie”

This reason may seem a bit harsh, but there’s no point in lying if the man honestly doesn’t harbor feelings of love. This also holds true if the man used to be able to say it, but not anymore because his feelings of love are fading away. If this is the case for you, you might want to talk about the future direction of your relationship.

9) “There’s no reason for me to say it out loud”__Last but not least, many men on the survey responded by saying that they feel no pressure to say "ai shiteru" because they believe their girl already knows it in her heart! But still, it might be nice to verbalize those feelings every once in a while.

Source: Sugoren

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Is the Japanese Word for “Thank You” Losing Its Meaning? -- Son’s “I love you” phone call to mother has the entire class in stitches -- New Social Network “Yankee I Love You” Caters to Japanese Juvenile Delinquents__

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47 Comments
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may not want to shed their cool guy image by falling hopelessly in love and proclaiming their feelings to the world. Do tough guys who go around saying “I love you” lose some of their masculinity in your eyes?

LOL. Japan really is stuck in the mid-twentieth century. I guess guys like Paul Newman (deceased), Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Robert DeNiro, and on-and-on lost their "cool" because they fell in love. Right? Grow up guys.

-7 ( +5 / -12 )

“I don’t want to flatter her too much”

Interesting that Japanese men seem to lap up the expected sugois, forced laughter/clapping of hands from the women when they talk about their jobs or crack jokes in the izakaya after work.

8 ( +11 / -4 )

It's all down to the meaning of words.

Nothing very deep or complicated about it.

The opposite end of the scale is the guy on a cell phone who ends the call with "luv ya hon!"

2 ( +4 / -2 )

There's another reason that these Japan Today guys don't know about: The "I love you" equivalent in Japanese, "Ai Shiteru", is an imported expression that has yet settled and beaten "like=suki", which is far more traditional and natural in the J usage.The strongest romantic feeling was expressed as "shitau". "Ai" meant "cherish" or "appreciate" in Japanese. Don't know who translated it using the word "Ai". "Love" is stronger than "like" in terms of feeling intensity? Well, "like" has done that bit as well. Why should Japanese men accept that Anglo-centred view?

I'll tell you part of the reason. The problem is that the word has been in the language for a long time without having settled much but long enough to force Japanese people to define their feeling in terms of this expression.

Anyway, until the world "ai" becomes as natural as "suki", it won't be on Japanese men's lips - not as much as you guys might think it should.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

Men should only say "I love you" after the woman does and/or to get sex.

-14 ( +7 / -22 )

Since when is a hairstylist a cool and tough guy? That made my morning!!

12 ( +15 / -3 )

A few years ago, I saw on one of the Japanese programs were they did an experiment. They wanted to see how different women express their love between Japan and South Korea. They took 5 women from the two countries and asked them to call their husbands and say " I love you" when the Japanese women called and said that to their husbands, most answered " are you ok" or "are you drunk" laughed and just dismissed it, only one said back to his wife, "I love you." Now on to the Korean women, when they were asked to call their husbands to say the same thing, all of the women said, I love you and the men, calmly, instantly, passionately replied, "I love you" or "I love you so much." The Japanese audience were shocked, but they thought it was sweet that the men were able to express themselves so naturally without shame. I lived in Korea for 2 years and I always saw couples young and old holding hands, kissing and NEVER having a problem expressing love. As to why the post-war Japanese men are reluctant to express their feelings is beyond me. There are cultural differences, I get it, but for a lot of men here to express their love is like asking them to go base jumping.

7 ( +11 / -4 )

The question is why do Japanese women say "I Love You" in English quite easily but can never say "ai shiteru" to the same person if they mean the same thing?

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Misogyny runs deep in Japanese culture.

Just as it has in the past more culturally developed.

Ownership of women is still acceptable, even though not discussed openly.

Language memes good and bad are a symptom of this ancient and hidden value set.

The development of equality will take time, generational change and an elite to grow through old value systems.

But it can be done while keeping the best values of Japan's rich and wonderful heritage. ...

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

The question is why do Japanese women say "I Love You" in English quite easily but can never say "ai shiteru" to the same person if they mean the same thing?

Because in their non native language it doesnt carry the same emotional feeling behind it.

Misogyny runs deep in Japanese culture.

This nails it.

I thought the only time Japanese men say this is when they are standing in front of a mirror looking at themselves.....

As does this

“I don’t want to use it lightly” Nor should you, but most never use it at all “I’m too shy to say it” Oh grow up “It’s too soon” After 20 years of marriage? “Suki da feels more natural” If you are talking about sushi, yes “Cool guys don’t fall in love” How cool are we going here? Im thinking frigid. “What is love?” Oh for Gods sake.... “I don’t want to flatter her too much” Yeah, heaven forbid she might get a little confidence and leave you on your sorry ass “It would be a lie” FINALLY!!!! A little honesty! And not even for the shagfest reasons Reckless gave “There’s no reason for me to say it out loud” Yeah, there is, when 99% of the time you act like a total twat.

3 ( +9 / -6 )

Japanese people really do need to lighten up a bit.

3 ( +8 / -5 )

Just because I love you translated literally is ai shite iru, it doesn't mean they're equivalent. If Mr cleo suddenly started spouting ai shite iru at me, I'd start worrying that maybe he was having an affair (and unconsciously over-compensating) or that senility had set in. Suki da yo, said with feeling, is much better. Saying it without words (running the bath just how I like it, making coffee in the morning and after dinner, buying in the sweets/wine he knows I like, little surprises just for the fun of it) is much, much, better.

Anyone can parrot ai shite iru, it means nothing. Any Japanese dude using ai shite iru as a chat-up line is waving a virtual neon-lit placard over his head declaring 'I'm a pseudo, give me the time of day at your own peril'.

Look at it from the other side of the prism: Why don't English-speaking shop keepers yell Welcome!! at customers when they walk into the shop and Thank you most humbly!! when they walk out again? After all, that's what Japanese shopkeepers do, and we all know Japan has the best shop service in the world.

Because it sounds daft in English, is why. Just like ai shite iru sounds daft in Japanese.

19 ( +20 / -1 )

And so called experts are calling for the birthrate to increase or stabilize at 2.07 from the current 1.41 in the next 16 years or so?

Communication guys! Communication!

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Re: point four. Real women are not comic book characters either, but a lot of Japanese men wish they were, and society also has unrealistic expectations of women. Telling someone you love them, in any language, is pointless if you don't behave as if you love them. How many couples just tolerate each other, or marry because they think they should.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

The question is why do Japanese women say "I Love You" in English quite easily but can never say "ai shiteru" to the same person if they mean the same thing?

Interesting point - but I think that the phrase I love you seem "lighter" than the phrase "I love you". These 2 phrases might mean "literally" the same but I love you seems more casual.

at the same time, the word "suki" might literally mean "like", but depending on the way you say, it actually means very strong. Hard to explain but it's not the literal translation but the actual "usage" of the word.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

What people do or don't do is up to them. But for the record, my friend tells his wife he loves her all the time. Other couple I know seem quite happy also.

Why the need to stereotype? Plain old intolerance or a sign of being weak-minded. Or both.

Do people realise atrocities committed throughout history are because people felt the need to stereotype?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Interesting point - but I think that the phrase I love you seem "lighter" than the phrase "I love you". These 2 phrases might mean "literally" the same but I love you seems more casual.

I meant to say the phrase I love you seem "lighter" than the phrase "ai shiteru". simple error. oops.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I agree - actions more than words seem to communication love better to me thani "just" words. I love you at the right time is nice but actions and other ways of showing you are very happy to have your partner around is superior in my experience. I always want and make sure to touch my partner.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Definitely concur on the forced laughter/clapping of hands, only in Japan Mother yields to this overwhelming desire to enthusiastically engage in explosive manifestations of mirth on hearing one of Dad jokes, doesn't encourage public affection either. Cousins break out into spontaneous clapping and laugher too, it touching sometimes because it is a display of affection in itself, and the Boys don't complain. They have a unique way of secretly expressing affection that's probably more exciting than direct flirting, It can also be used as a exquisite form of torture. Actions more than words for me, I have no problem with chivalry and manners.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Love" also relates to family relationships. Approximately 15 years ago I was teaching a course in Japan-American Comparative Cultures at a university in Sapporo. Half of my students were Japanese majoring in English and half were American exhange students in Japan to study Japanese and soak up Japanese culture. The Americans were on home stay programs. As their "homework" assignment for the week, I told them to "go home, hug your mother, and say to her 'I love you.' in whichever language you prefer. If you are American, say it to your homestay mother. Then come back here next week and report to the class on how your mother responded." I gave this assignment, threatening a failing grade, to later show the Americans what I knew would be the results. The Americans reported, "I hugged my homestay mother and said 'I love you.' She reponded, 'What are you dong?' I said, 'My university sensei said I had to do this.' She responded, 'Hen na koto' but shrugged it off." The Japanese students in my class confessed, "I couldn't do it." I set this entire thing up so that the Japanese and Americans would be asking each other "Why can't you do that?" and "How can you do that?"

1 ( +1 / -0 )

As many people already know, the appropriate response to number 6, "What is love?" is "Baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me, no more."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why don't non-Japanese hesitate to say "I love you"? Maybe non-Japanese put more emphasis on verbal communication than non-verbal.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Maybe non-Japanese put more emphasis on verbal communication than non-verbal.

That might be true, but the opposite is definitely not true for the Japanese. Just ask every couple who lives in different cities from eachother.

I mean, I will never forget the time when me and my gaijin friend had to, literally, force our Japanese friend into buying a small, inexpensive, fun present for his girlfriend for no reason other than that he loves her. When he finally did, he was SHOCKED by the results, how happy it made her. The thought had never even come to him.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Gee, I wonder how the people of this country managed to survive all this time without us gaijin to tell them how they should live their lives (hopefully obvious sarcasm).

@Tina

Maybe non-Japanese put more emphasis on verbal communication than non-verbal.

You just reminded me of some friends, he is 70 and she is 60. I would be surprised to hear of him saying he loved his wife, even more so in front of others. But all of his friends, including me, don't have to be told that they are happy together.

My wife just told me about her parents. Her dad never told her mother that he loved her, but he did say that if he was born again, he would want to marry her. To me, that means LOVE.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

everyone has a different definition of romance... having a partner that understands that and uses it to show their feelings is what love is all about...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Good post Cleo. The Japanese equivalent of 'I love you' simply is not 'Aishiteru'. It's 'Suki da yo'. Otherwise, I don't see what the big deal is anyway, as long as a couple is happy together!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Right on Reformed ! (11:59 PM, JST)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Love is actually a activity. So it is important to say I love you to people you care about. People have trouble saying I love you for many reasons. They could have been raised in a home with emotionally distant parents, they're unhappy or they've been hurt before and are afraid the feeling will not be reciprocated again. In Japan there are cultural differences. But it' still important to say it whether it is your spouse or child because they need to hear it. You need to be the type of person who not only feels it. but gives unconditional love. However if it doesn't find expression in speech or action, it is unimportant, shallow, and false. Therefore don't just feel love, say it, show it, give it. In the end talk the talk and walk the walk. In other words act in a way that agrees with the things you say.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This kind of thing is all cultural. It's interesting that French and Italian men are considered "great lovers" are where the culture is very touchy feely. Japan in this respect is more like the British in their standoffishness. Then you have countries like Ukraine and Russia where women want to hear those words from their boyfriends almost constantly even call their boyfriends at work to get those words. Not sure how well this would work in Japan. Would be interesting.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I'm French and I never say "I love you" for some of the reasons listed above. So, I don't believe it's a cultural thing.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@silvertonque, there are hairstylists that look bit of a macho than effeminate.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese women often tell me that the phrase "let`s make love" is too a stranger to the lips of Japanese men-- along with other things.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

My wife just told me about her parents. Her dad never told her mother that he loved her, but he did say that if he was born again, he would want to marry her. To me, that means LOVE

this --- it true. Japanese men often come up with "alternate' ways to verbally express love without saying ai shiteru. even when they propose, they don't always say ai shiteru but instead, they come up with stuff like i want to come home to see you every night, or, i want to be with you when i am born again.. or let's become a family.. etc. ai shiteru, shouldn't, and doesn't have to be the only (or recommended) way to verbally express love.

The Americans reported, "I hugged my homestay mother and said 'I love you.' She reponded, 'What are you dong?' I said, 'My university sensei said I had to do this.' She responded, 'Hen na koto' but shrugged it off."

I can totally picture this Japanese homestay mother saying "hen na koto !!" but with a big smile on her face and though she was probably shy, she probably loved it that he said that to her. Japanese people, especially older people, often say "hen na koto", or "hen na ko ne" (what a strange kid you are!) with love and smile -- to take the phrase "hen na koto" literally just means you are not understanding the actual meaning of the phrase (sound of the phrase to Japanese people). I'm positive that this homestay mom loved it :)

The Japanese equivalent of 'I love you' simply is not 'Aishiteru'. It's 'Suki da yo'

yes!! "suki" sounds music to Japanese ears while ai shiteru doesn't quite sit well with Japanese ears. i like being told "dai suki" - it makes me smile :)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I'm positive that this homestay mom loved it :)

Maybe she did, but I'm not sure I would. You invite some unknown teenager into your home, give him bed and board, and next thing he's hugging you and saying he loves you? On one level it would be rather disturbing, on another level it cheapens the meaning of the word 'love'.

It seems most Japanese say suki when they mean love, and many Westerners (Americans?) say love when they mean like.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

cleo - I guess it depends on how long the student had stayed in the house and spent time with the homestay family, also depends on the relationship. if the family provided the house/room as business, that would be one thing, but if the family treated the student as one of their children, then that's another story.

if the student was given the assignment to hug the homestay mom and say i love you after only a few months of staying there, maybe the mom really felt strange, especially that the student said that it was a homework assignment. but after a whole year or so, spent wonderful time with the family, then the hug and the word i love you actually is appreciated.

i was an exchange student at one point and i did tell my homestay mom/dad that i loved them and hugged them :)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Suki da yo? I'll try to bare that in mind. I like learning Japanese, but I keep getting tripped up by things like this, or the 14 ways of saying "I", or the multiple ways of saying "you". Still, it's interesting to see so many reasons that Japanese men hesitate to say Aishiteru, or Suki da yo. The most ridiculous of course being "Cool guys don't fall in love." Really? So why do all the best protagonists in movies, tv programs, anime, manga and novels end up falling in love? That response makes me want to beat people over the head with a frying pan. I can understand shyness, being introverted myself, and I can understand not wanting to say it too soon, or being uncertain of your own feelings, but the cool guy excuse is pathetic and warrants a kick in the...actually I don't know the Japanese word for those.

On another note: the utter b*****d who reckons you should only say "I love you" to get laid deserves to be castrated. You're not a man. You're a dog. Keep up that attitude and you'll be put down like a dog as well.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Fox Cloud Lelean -

yup, try "suki" or "daisuki" instead of aishiteru (aishiteru should be saved for a very special occasion), casual suki or daisuki makes japanese women/girls very happy!! like-wise, suki or daisuki makes japanese guys happy, too! aishiteru sounds so formal to Japanese ears.

the whole "cool men dont fall in love" thing.. i am not sure if they are saying that seriously.. i think most of the times when guys say that, they are saying that to others, but behind the door, they are probably telling their girl that they "daisuki" their girls :) there might be some men who believe that cool men dont fall in love but i seriously doubt there are many of those men.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

anyway silence is virtue for japanese who are not good at expressing their feelings.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

10) They haven't paid for the room yet.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Anyone who automatically thinks this happens because Japanese men are too cool to say it or look down on women are being racist and inconsiderate. Its easy to brand and entire gender of another culture as trashy when you have no attachment to the ones being attacked and labeled, branded in an entire group.

I don't tell my wife I love her on a regular because its weird and uncomfortable to do that, and I find it insulting that anyone thinks that any opinion to the contrary is looking down on women. (Talk about cultural imperialism and imposing your personal view, so much for personal liberties and individuals being different from you as long as you can loop it all in and label the entire thing as an inferior cultural practice separate from your own.)

That doesnt mean I dont love her. I tell her, Totemo suki dayo (I like you a lot), arigato (Thank you, and specifically why), all the time. I tell her she's the most important person to me and that she's beautiful. I'm actually asexual so I don't expect anything in return for complimenting her. In fact I have to work myself up to have sex with her, and I feel bad I can't give it to her more often because she'a wonderful woman. I often feel like I'm not providing her enough so I try to make sure to make the extra effort.

That all being said, I will not go into this game of saying I love her all the time. If I feel like she's the type of person that'll start getting paranoid if I don't say that daily or respond to her saying it (assuming she says it multiple times a day) I wouldn't divorce her but I'll seriously ask her what is lacking in her life that she needs that mantra to be repeated by me for her to feel better about her daily life.

Although I would almost go as far as to say people who say it on a daily basis are either fake, shallow, or cheapening the word, I wouldn't stereotype an entire group of people who use that phrase on a day to day basis because that'll make me only as guilty as you guys who have no hesitation flashing stereotypes as long as it fits in with your world view and you're behind the gun turret of judgement and are on the side with the itchy trigger finger. Yeah, nice work, guys.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Although I would almost go as far as to say people who say it on a daily basis are either fake, shallow, or cheapening the word.

Actually, I would argue that it's the opposite: you're cheapening the word by not saying it often enough; by taking it for granted. No one is promised tomorrow. You never know when it will be your last day on earth. Neither do you know the checkout time for your loved ones. I tell my lady every chance I get that I lover her, and she knows I'm sincere, and she can't get enough of it. She can leave the apartment in the morning and might not be lucky enough to make it back at night. Who knows. Random accidents happen, well--randomly. The point is I treat every moment with her as it's my last because in truth it very well could be.

Assuming that a loved one will always be there, and that you can cherry-pick the right moments to tell them you love them is arrogance and ignorance blown out of this world. Or in other words: fake, shallow, and cheap!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I think they takes time to express their feelings in a manner that they will tell it to the right woman they love.Like for example I have been dating a Japanese man .we are now almost 9 months. Being a woman ,I can always express my feelings to him and I could easily say I LOVE YOU to him but he doesn't answer me in return to say he loves me too.I feel sad about it coz in my mind he just having good time with me, However, I continue sending him messages and ends with saying I love you and surprisingly he replied that he loves me very much. the word means to me a lot.AISHITERUYO! NOW I can say that's how Japanese express their feelings to women in a sensitive manner.hahaha! I love him lol!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What about saying ''daisuki?" Isn't that close to saying 'I love you?'

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Ahhh so wonder Japanese women like foreigners, at least of the reasons would be we are a lot more open to this

0 ( +0 / -0 )

When I was in graduate school, someone asked a Japanese classmate how to say "I love you" in Japanese. She replied, "We don't say it. We say something like 'The moon is beautiful tonight.'" She then went on to say, "I say 'The moon is beautiful tonight' to my Canadian husband - and he says, 'So what.'"

And that pretty much sums up the cultural differences this article is discussing.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I guess that this article is a nosense. Since the J-man are not a only one entity

everyone is different then move on.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Many Japanese women welcome the phrase "I love you" pretty openly from foreigners. . It's often used to get women to sleep with foreign men. As far as Japanese women not wanting to meet a foreigners parents, I've never heard of it. Most are eager to meet them as they see it as a stepping stone to marriage. The words "I love you" have quite a bit of power in Japan when a foreigner says it. Use it often and you can get what you want.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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