Japanese kanji for 'love': 愛 and 恋

Kanji for 'Love': How and When to Use 愛 and 恋

Welcome to our journey into the world of Japanese kanji!

Today, we're delving into one of the most heartwarming and profound concepts - "love". So what is the kanji for 'love'? The Japanese language has two distinct kanji to express this deep emotion: 愛 and 恋. Unraveling the meanings, readings, and cultural significance of these characters provides a deeper understanding of Japanese culture and language.

So, whether you're interested in expressing your feelings to someone special, understanding the nuances of 'love' in Japanese, or simply enhancing your language skills, this guide is for you.

Let's dive in and fill your heart with the language of love, Japanese style!

Understanding the origin of 愛 and 恋

1. Origin of 愛 (Love)

This kanji is composed of four radicals:

  • 爪 (Claw, fingernail): It symbolizes something cherished that is held as carefully as one would with claws or fingernails.
  • 冖 (Cover, crown): Represents something being covered or shielded.
  • 心 (Heart): Denotes the heart or mind and feelings.
  • 夂 (Winter): It is interpreted as moving forward with care, or a slow progression - perhaps a reflection of how love develops over time.

Collectively, the kanji 愛, 'love', portrays the careful protection and nurturing of cherished feelings within one's heart, akin to love's gradual evolution.

2. Origin of 恋 (Romantic love)

This kanji comprises of two radicals:

  • 赤 (Red): Represents the color red, often associated with strong, passionate emotions.
  • 心 (Heart): Denotes the heart or mind and feelings.

The kanji 恋, 'romantic love', embodies the expression of fervent feelings stemming from the heart, aligning with the passionate connotation of romantic love.

Next, let's see how to read those kanji and common vocabulary words using them.

But before that, are you learning Japanese but struggling remembering your kanji? Here at Hirakan, we make everyday life products that help you remember your Japanese. Check out our JLPT N5 kanji:

It contains all kanji necessary to pass the JLPT N5. And it makes a pretty stylish wall decor if you ask us. Take a look at the JLPTN N5 poster here!

How to read 愛 and 恋

1. 愛 (Love)

愛 onyomi and kunyomi readings

Kanji Onyomi Kunyomi
アイ - ai いと(しい) - ito(shii)

Vocabulary words containing 愛:

  • 愛 (あい - ai) = love
  • 愛しい (いとしい - itoshii) = dear, beloved
  • 愛する (あいする - aisuru) = to love
  • 愛情 (あいじょう - aijou) = affection, love
  • 愛人 (あいじん - aijin) = lover

2. 恋 (Romantic love)

恋 onyomi and kunyomi readings

Kanji Onyomi Kunyomi
レン - ren こ(い) - ko(i)

Vocabulary words containing 恋:

  • 恋 (こい - koi) = love, passion
  • 恋する (こいする - koi suru) = to fall in love
  • 恋人 (こいびと - koibito) = lover, sweetheart
  • 恋愛 (れんあい - renai) = romance, love affair
  • 片思い (かたおもい - kataomoi) = unrequited love (literally, "one-sided love")

How to use 愛 and 恋 in Japan

1. Cultural significance and usage of 愛 (Love)

The kanji 愛 is used widely in Japan, and its application extends beyond romantic relationships. For example, you'll often see it in contexts relating to the love for family members (家族愛 - Kazoku ai), love for friends (友愛 - Yuuai), and even love for one's country (愛国心 - Aikokushin). Moreover, it is frequently used in names, both of people and businesses, to convey a sense of love and care.

In terms of cultural significance, Valentine's Day (バレンタインデー) in Japan has a unique tradition where women give chocolates to men as a sign of their affection or appreciation, often using the word 愛 to express their feelings. This tradition is followed by White Day (ホワイトデー) on March 14, when men who received chocolates on Valentine's Day are expected to return the favor.


2. Cultural significance and usage of 恋 (Romantic Love)

The kanji 恋 is most commonly used in the context of romantic love, often depicting love that is passionate, longing, or sometimes even painful. The phrase 恋に落ちる (koi ni ochiru), literally 'to fall in love', captures this idea of being helplessly swept away by strong emotions.

Japan's traditional Tanabata Festival (七夕祭り), celebrated on July 7, is often associated with the kanji 恋. The festival is based on the romantic tale of two deities, Orihime and Hikoboshi, who are represented by stars and allowed to meet only once a year on this day. People celebrate by writing their wishes, often related to love and relationships, on small pieces of paper (短冊 - tanzaku) and hanging them on bamboo trees.


Now you know what the kanji for 'love' are. We've navigated through the rich narratives of two integral kanji: 愛 (Love) and 恋 (Romantic Love). These characters are a tapestry of historical significance, diverse readings, and a wide array of vocabulary they form part of.

  • Understanding 愛 can help you express a variety of deep and affectionate feelings in Japanese, ranging from familial love to patriotic love.
  • Mastering the kanji 恋 offers you a powerful way to articulate passionate and romantic sentiments, letting you communicate the complexities and nuances of romantic love.

Commit yourself to regular practice with these kanji, be it through writing, reading, or by integrating them into your daily language exploration. Learning kanji extends beyond rote memorization of shapes and strokes - it involves understanding the culture and context these characters inhabit. As we've seen today, every kanji comes with its own vibrant narrative.

See as well:

So, embrace the journey of kanji learning. Each character you learn is not merely a symbol, it's a gateway to expressing yourself and comprehending a rich cultural heritage. Enjoy your study sessions, and bear in mind - each kanji you master brings you closer to language proficiency.

Back to blog