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Ask Sara: Does “I Love You” Mean the Same Thing in Japan?

My date told me she loved me. Is this miscommunication or potential pet murder?

By 2 min read 1

Our resident love-in-Japan writer, Sara Who, answers your questions on everything from dating rules to finding a partner for love, marriage and more. Got a question you’d like to ask Sara? Email it to editorial@gplusmedia.com.

Fatal attraction?

Hi Sara,

I’m a German guy here on a work exchange and just recently started dating a girl. We’ve been on a couple of dates so far, which have been really fun, but on our last date I casually asked her how she felt about me and she told me: “I love you.” I was kind of shocked, to be honest. I thought Japanese people didn’t really say that kind of stuff directly.

Is this a language thing? Or should I be worried that she’s going to kill my pet rabbit?

— Fearing For My Pet

Dear Fearing,

This actually happened to me once — on a first date! I was having a drink with a guy I had just met, and he straight up asked me to be his girlfriend. This being after we had spent less than two hours together. Half-horrified, half-amused, I told him we barely knew each other and he declared that he “just knew I was the one for him.” He was dead serious. To this day, I still don’t know if something got lost in translation somewhere, but if I had to put money on it, I’d say he probably thought I would fall into his arms straight away (or into his bed.)

In the case of your date, I’d say the problem is most likely to be a language issue. A lot of the Japanese people I know say they don’t understand “I love you” as a phrase that’s heavy with meaning. Foreign teacher friends have often complained about how students yell that they love them in the hallway and it makes them feel awkward. Simply, “I love you,” for many non-English speakers, just doesn’t have the same nuance.

Maybe try to ask her what she meant the next time you meet and explain the difference between “like” and “love.” Even better, ask her to tell you in Japanese. If she replies “すき (suki, I like you),” then you can relax. She’s probably trying to tell you she wants to become your girlfriend. It’s a bit early, but not out of the ordinary, especially if you guys are still young. However, if she says “あいしてる (aishiteiru, I love you),” then that’s a completely different story. Run for the hills, and don’t forget your pet rabbit!

Love, Sara

What do you reckon: is this a case of lost in translation or fatal attraction? Have you ever been told “I love you” after just a few dates? Share your experience in the comments! 

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  • Dale Goodwin says:

    In my experience, Japanese NEVER say “I love you” with a full comprehension of what they are saying. Even if they are fluent in English and married to a native English speaker, they don’t use that phrase. (Married to a native Japanese going on 37 years) Native Japanese never use that phrase with each other either – so much so that when you hear it used by somebody, it sounds phoney.



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