The difference between 恋 and 愛
Japanese Culture & Language
The most logical place to start when looking for the definition of a word is a dictionary. However, there's a major shortcoming in Japanese-English dictionaries which is that they list the nearest equivalent English word. There is nothing anyone can do to avoid this short of inventing new words that are direct translations. Translations are always approximations and if it so happens that words in unrelated languages match up perfectly, then that's lucky. Often, as with this 恋・愛 problem, it's inadequate so I searched Sanseido(u)'s web dictionary via goo. It's an invaluable tool for those people like me who have already spent a small fortune on books and would rather save the pennies for merchandise!
We'll look at 愛 first. It is the feeling of attraction towards something irreplaceable. It's "love" as we'd say in English "I love this song/my family" or something along those lines but also, rather unhelpfully in definition 1イ (the Japanese version of 1b), the second part-definition is simply 恋. Great help. 恋 is definted as love that is restricted to "attraction between sexes" so it raises an interesting question as to where homosexuals stand in all this... But removing the specific wording and keeping the concept, 恋 is physical attraction/sexual love between partners, not love in general.
So basically we have 愛≥恋 where 愛 is sometimes equal to 恋 and sometimes greater. Most importantly, the following is not true: 愛≡恋 (≡ means "always equal to" if you haven't seen it before). However, most Japanese people don't actually believe that 愛≥恋, instead usually believing either that 愛 is always greater than 恋 as in 愛>恋 or that it's better to sever the two and say 愛≠恋. It's a case of a language being not what it is in the books because it has a life of its own. The most equivalent English I can think of is not quite as subtle as the 愛・恋 distinction. It's mostly just words that have taken on an idiomatic meaning such as "cool", "square" and "wicked". Yes, I'm living in the 60's, 70's and 90's!
I'd like to point out here that 愛 is used in the word 愛しい which means "beloved", "dearest" or any of a number of synonyms. I'm also going to point out the flip-side which is that 恋 is used in 恋しい which means the same thing. However, it also can be a synonym for 憧れの which means "yearned for" as an adjective. That somewhat points at 恋 being not necessarily a two way thing but I'd have to admit it's tenuous at best. Confusingly there's also 愛おしい which isn't particularly relevant to us because it means "adorable" as in "cute". That's linked to the general scope of 愛 as all-encompassing love but we're just concerned with this narrow aspect here. Also, combining the two to make 恋愛 which means sexual love/sex which I interpret to be 恋love meaning that 恋 is more the sexual part. Might not be true though...
The short version is that 愛 and 恋 are different and everyone knows what the difference is. I use the word "know" loosely here, more along the K from Men in Black lines than dictionary definition:
Yes, my friends, that was deep philosophy in a quote from Men in Black of all places! But it says what I want: who's to say any of these people are right about what they know to be the difference between 愛 and 恋? But I'm not going to get existentialist on the discussion so here are a few suggestions from this Yahoo question which was asked this week so it's possibly connected with the DMN. You never know...
A person is smart. People are dumb. Everything they've ever "known" has been proven to be wrong. A thousand years ago everybody knew as a fact, that the earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, they knew it was flat. Fifteen minutes ago, you knew we humans were alone on it. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.
- 恋 is temporary/愛 is perpetual
- 恋 is taken/愛 is given
- 恋 is something one person does/愛 is something two people develop
That's just one opinion though. Frustratingly, there doesn't seem to be a consensus on this although more people seem to think that 愛 is either a more reciprical thing or a more permanent thing than 恋. After a little more searching, I came across the blog of a "katy" from 九州 which contained this interesting tidbit, translated of course:
If you look at the character 恋, the character 心 (heart) is at the bottom.
下心 (individual kanji mean bottom-heart) is in 恋.
Then looking at the character 愛, the character 心 is at the centre.
愛 is 真心 (individual kanji mean true-heart).
secret intention = back of one's mind/mind-set
devotion = true heart, a heart witout lies or deception, sincerity
I quite like that interpretation but only as part of my conclusion. Anyway, she also did a survey of 100 bloggers and compiled the list I've just linked, of which I particularly like the following:
- 06) 恋 is raging rapids/愛 is the deep blue sea
- 19) 恋 is seeing pockmarks as dimples/愛 is seeing pockmarks and accepting them
- 25) 恋 is a strong feeling that it was unrequited/愛 is impossible to express in a word
- 37) 恋 is the beginning of 愛/愛 is the continuation of 恋
- 50) 恋 is seeking your own happiness/愛 is experiencing joint happiness
- 55) 恋 is away/愛 is home
- 73) 恋 is play/愛 is serious
- 87) 恋 is batting!/愛 is catch ball!
So it's all very well having the dictionary definitions but it seems that in real Japanese the two are quite different when they refer to the same area. Ignoring all the peripherals of 愛 about Christian love, etc. and getting down to what it holds in common with 恋, that is the partner aspect of the words, it seems to me that 愛 is love as we know it - falling into love and being in love - while 恋 is actually um... not love! Who honestly saw that one coming? This calls for a bit of Queen... Freddie takes it away: "This thing... called "love"... I just... can't handle it..."
Notwithstanding all that, the following is a rather interesting aspect of the words for "lover":
恋+人=恋人 (love + person = lover/sweetheart)
愛+人=愛人 (love + person = lover/mistress)
So much for 愛 being deep love!
UPDATE 1: I've just discovered that the simplified Chinese variant of 愛 is 爱 which, if you can see, replaces the lower half (the part with the heart (心) and the winter radical (夂)) with the word for friend (友)...