How to Write Love in Japanese Kanji

Using the Kanji Character Ai

Kanji for love

Writing love in Japanese is represented as the kanji symbol 愛 which means love and affection.

  • The On-reading is ai (this is the Chinese pronunciation based on when the character was brought to Japan)
  • The Kun-reading is ito (shii), this is the native Japanese pronunciation
  • It takes 13 strokes to create the kanji for love.
  • The radical is kokoro. A radical expresses the general nature of the kanji character.

Useful compounds of ai 愛 are:

Kanji Compound




aijou love, affection


aikokushin patriotism


aijin lover (implies extramarital relationship)


renai romance, romantic love


aishiteru I love you

Koi 恋 vs. Ai 愛 Kanji

The kanji koi 恋 is love for the opposite sex, a longing for a specific person, while ai 愛 is a general feeling of love. Note that the compound renai 恋愛 for romantic love is written with both koi 恋 and ai 愛.

Ai can be used as a proper name, such as in the name of Princess Aiko or the singer Aiko. The name combines the kanji characters for love and child 愛 子. The kanji koi 恋 is rarely used as a name.

Kanji Tattoos for Love

Some people are interested in getting a tattoo of a kanji symbol. You may want to consider at length whether ai or koi is the one that you want to have tattooed. A full discussion of the uses of koi and ai may help you decide which is most appropriate. Some people may decide based on which kanji they find the most attractive rather than the meaning.

Kanji can be written in a variety of fonts. If you are working with a tattoo artist, you may want to explore all of the variations in order to get the one that will be exactly what you prefer.

Saying "I Love You" in Japanese

While modern American English makes frequent use of "I love you," the phrase is not used as often in Japan. They are more likely to use suki desu, 好きです meaning to like, rather than speaking openly of love. 

What is Kanji?

Kanji is one of the three writing systems for the Japanese language. It includes thousands of symbols which came to Japan from China. The symbols represent ideas rather than pronunciation. The other two Japanese alphabets, hiragana, and katakana, express Japanese syllables phonetically. There are 2136 symbols designated as Joyo Kanji by the Japanese Ministry of Education. Children in Japan are taught first the 46 characters that comprise each of the hiragana and katakana alphabets. Then they learn 1006 kanji characters in grades one through six.

On-Reading and Kun-Reading

On-reading is usually used when the kanji is part of a compound, as in the compounds shown above. When the kanji is by itself used as a noun, the Kun-reading is usually used. The Japanese also use the English word for love, pronouncing it as rabu ラブ because there is no L or V sounds in Japanese. 

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Abe, Namiko. "How to Write Love in Japanese Kanji." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Abe, Namiko. (2023, April 5). How to Write Love in Japanese Kanji. Retrieved from Abe, Namiko. "How to Write Love in Japanese Kanji." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).