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The difference between 恋 and 愛

Posted by H!P46, 14 April 2007 · 5731 views

Japanese Culture & Language
In the course of writing my part of the Doki Miki Night summary this week, I tried to find out once and for all the difference between and which will henceforth only be written in Japanese so pay attention if you intend to follow this ramble. Those who want to follow but don't have Japanese language support are advised to install it. It's very easy to Google how or search the forum because I'm sure it's been asked a fair few times. Anyway, I've asked myself what the difference between the two words is before because a lot of Hello! Project songs have either one, the other or both. However, I have never really chased up on it. Until now. So my search was a qualified success. I've come across so many answers that hold something in common but are different that I've had come to my own alternative conclusion. And this is how I came to it.

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! :D

We'll look at 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 (the Japanese version of 1b), the second part-definition is simply . 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... :D 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:

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.

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...
  • 恋 is temporary/愛 is perpetual
  • 恋 is taken/愛 is given
  • 恋 is something one person does/愛 is something two people develop
The majority point in the direction that 愛 is something greater than 恋. The most interesting on the page is 「字が違うだけ同じようなものでしょう。」 which is one of the few opinions I've read saying they are the same. After all, that's what the dictionary said...

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:
恋という字を見てみると、 『心』という字が下についています
If you look at the character 恋, the character (heart) is at the bottom.
恋には『下心』があります
下心 (individual kanji mean bottom-heart) is in 恋.
では、愛という字を見てみると『心』は真ん中にあります
Then looking at the character 愛, the character 心 is at the centre.
愛は『真心』なのです
愛 is 真心 (individual kanji mean true-heart).

下心=内心心がけ
secret intention = back of one's mind/mind-set
真心=「真実の心」「偽りや飾りの無い心飾り」「誠意
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!
See a clear trend here? There are one or two that go the other way but mostly it's 愛 over 恋. Also, I should probably point out that "pockmarks as dimples" in 19 is a Japanese idiom, 痘痕もえくぼ, that roughly means "beauty is only skin deep" or "love is blind".

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! XD 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+=恋人 (love + person = lover/sweetheart)
愛+人=愛人 (love + person = lover/mistress)
So much for 愛 being deep love! :P

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)...




wow, yer blog is really informative!
thanks a bunch for the spiffy work ^_^
Very cool, maybe I can help in this regard though. (Hopefully I can explain this properly)
I'm not gonna focus on the Japanese language however, I'll go one step further, back to the Chinese language.

Now, its known that characters written in Japanese will not necessarily have the same meaning in Chinese. While not the case with 恋 and 愛, it seems easier to distinguish between the two (even has an explanation for the last comment "aspects of word for 'lover'").

You mention that in general 愛>恋 which also holds ground in the Chinese language. 恋 would be more of a feeling (one that could come and go with a moments notice), while 愛 is something a little more tangible (I don't know if that's the right word), 愛 stays with you, it doesn't leave (it can change, but it is still 'love' at its core). Which would agree mostly with what's being said by the various places you have looked at and cited. The part of 下心 and 真心 would definitely be one of the most accurate interpretations of the two characters I have seen.

Another thing about 恋 being not love, is because it is interpreted as a feeling, it can become more fluid in meaning, as their are several variations of feelings in regards to "like/love" as it were.

While true that 恋+人=恋人 (lover/sweetheart) and 愛+人=愛人 (lover/mistress), it might stem from the fact that 愛 in the Chinese language can sound like 外, which can mean outside. So, if taken in context of 外人 means outsider, or in case with 愛人 means mistress or third person in a relationship (third wheel, outsider, whatever you want to call it). This is just my thinking/logic, if that is truly the reason why it can be translated as such, then I'm not really sure. But, Chinese is like that as a language, so its truth is not entirely out of the question.

Hopefully that clears things up between 恋 and 愛.
Interesting thoughts. I quite like the outsider theory but when you say "the Chinese language" do you mean Cantonese or Mandarin (or maybe another dialect)? I ask because they're virtually homophones in Cantonese to the untrained ear but, based on my guess at reading the pinyin, less so in Mandarin. Still, I suppose it's closer than the Japanese as 愛人 (aijin) and 外人 (gaijin) sound passably similar in Japanese only if you can block out the consonant sound. But doesn't 愛人 not have a negative meaning in Chinese? I know I can rephrase that a little better... 愛人 has no negative connotations in Chinese right? I believe 恋人, or 戀人 as I work in traditional Chinese when I deal with the language, doesn't have negative connotations either but I'm not exactly a native speaker. Well, I am but I'm not a particularly proficient speaker.

In my rush to publish the thing I forgot to add something quite important but it doesn't affect my overall conclusion as to what 愛and 恋 as nouns are. I wanted to make a point about falling in love and how it's expressed in Japanese. Basically, there are two ways: 1) 好きになる (suki ni naru); 2) 恋に落ちる (koi ni ochiru). The former is general in that, like 愛, it can apply to loving anything whereas the latter is specifically for people in the romantic sense and it literally means "fall in love". Falling in love is obviously the start point of love and 愛に落ちる doesn't exist which is probably why I've come across so many "恋 is the start of something that becomes 愛" opinions. But what this all boils down to is fascinating for a self-confessed nerd like myself. Even though there exists a perfectly fine definition, people are not unified in what 愛 and 恋 are when it comes to detail. The best English equivalent I can think of is rubbish but then again, I'm not adamantly sure what the difference between a coat and a jacket is. But as Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying:

Knowledge is knowing that we cannot know.

Good article, very interesting, thanks. Just as an aside, a coat is a 'sleeved outer garment' and a jacket is a short coat. Both words come from old French (cote and jaquette). Hope this helps!
Ops, my fault, forgot to mention which dialect I go by. I go by the Cantonese dialect, so 愛 will sound like 外, however in Mandarin, both are pronounced slightly different than they would be in Cantonese, and they are pronounced slightly different in comparison to each other using mandarin. 愛 is pronounced in Mandarin the same way it would be in Japanese "ai". Where as 外 would be pronounced with a w and the a has an accent (downward slash to the right). So, while it is different, it'd still be easy to make a connection.

As far as my knowledge goes, 愛人 does not have a negative connotation like it does in Japanese, it would actually mean spouse (though definitely one of the most unused ways to say spouse). But, this is only what I know, and may or may not be representative of what it might mean/be in other regions. It also can mean "lover", so, I don't know if you want to take that as the negative meaning, but as far as I know, it doesn't carry the negative meaning.

Now, I'll go slightly off topic (kind of). The one thing that bugs me about the Japanese language, is how they keep switching between use of traditional and simplified Chinese. I've always used traditional, so simplified is a bit harder for me (oh the irony haha). And since they keep switching, it makes for a very confused Seraph at times. Why couldn't they just use one?? that's what I want to know.

Good article, very interesting, thanks. Just as an aside, a coat is a 'sleeved outer garment' and a jacket is a short coat. Both words come from old French (cote and jaquette). Hope this helps!

The thing that bothers me about it is that coats go "from the shoulders to the waist or below" whereas jackets "usually [extend] to the hips" so it's possible to have a jacket (by definition a short coat) that is longer than a coat! ^_^

As far as my knowledge goes, 愛人 does not have a negative connotation like it does in Japanese, it would actually mean spouse (though definitely one of the most unused ways to say spouse). But, this is only what I know, and may or may not be representative of what it might mean/be in other regions. It also can mean "lover", so, I don't know if you want to take that as the negative meaning, but as far as I know, it doesn't carry the negative meaning.

I struggle to find anything wrong with negative with being lovers unless it's the kind that Mathilda claims she is with Leon in Luc Besson's Leon/The Professional (Mathilda is supposedly 12). Because of that I'm not sure the whole 愛人・外人 thing was carried over from Chinese but I still like the idea. ^_^

The one thing that bugs me about the Japanese language, is how they keep switching between use of traditional and simplified Chinese. I've always used traditional, so simplified is a bit harder for me (oh the irony haha). And since they keep switching, it makes for a very confused Seraph at times. Why couldn't they just use one?? that's what I want to know.

That, I don't have an explanation for but I actually think it makes Japanese a bit neater than Chinese. To the outsider at least. Some of the simplified Chinese words look horrible to me such as using 讠instead of 言 but then again some look better like 会 rather than 會. I suppose it's because I can't read Chinese properly that I don't get confused. I actually think I'm in a great position to learn as I have my innate awareness of Chinese, being the child of immigrants from Hong Kong, but at the same time I don't know enough Chinese to need to forget it so I don't get confused. But then again it's not always the straight choice between traditional and simplified as my turtles explain: 龜 (Trad.) 龟 (Sim.) 亀 (Jap.)!
Okay, translate that, send it to DMN.

It won't get read on the air (too long) but you'll probably be famous in the studio for a month or two.
This is great! I've always wondered what the difference was, too! Thanks for the enlightenment. ^_^

it's not always the straight choice between traditional and simplified as my turtles explain: 龜 (Trad.) 龟 (Sim.) 亀 (Jap.)!


...well...that's just.....awkward....never knew that...cool. That's something new and totally unexpected. Hopefully there aren't too many more of these exceptions or its going to make me even more confused at times.

I don't know, I seem to be on the same boat as you. I'm also descended from Hong Kong immigrants, but my parents saw it would be better for me to learn English instead of Cantonese. So, in truth my Chinese down right sucks (I hate not knowing my mother tongue as well as my English), its ok enough, that I could get by, but I wish I could've studied it more when I was younger; a bit of an odd thing though, I can understand almost anything said to me in Cantonese, despite not being able to read/write it. But for me, traditional just seems to be a little bit easier...though recently along side of learning Japanese, I've also taken up doing Mandarin as well.

And...I also agree with Greyface, send this to DMN, I'm sure Fujimoto and Matsuura would like reading it. =D

Okay, translate that, send it to DMN.

It won't get read on the air (too long) but you'll probably be famous in the studio for a month or two.

As the guy with too much time on his hands? :D Besides, I'm sure I'm already famous as "that 'kigaru' guy"! ^_^

This is great! I've always wondered what the difference was, too! Thanks for the enlightenment. :D

Enlightenment? Actually, the point of the ramble was that there's no "right" answer! :( Everyone has their own ideas about the difference and the love/not love was just what I had to add to the fray. True, it's based on what other people have said and is sort of an aggregate of it all but at the end of the day it's just another opinion that's different to what the dictionary says. And it's a gaijin one at that!

it's not always the straight choice between traditional and simplified as my turtles explain: 龜 (Trad.) 龟 (Sim.) 亀 (Jap.)!

...well...that's just.....awkward....never knew that...cool. That's something new and totally unexpected. Hopefully there aren't too many more of these exceptions or its going to make me even more confused at times.

The only other one I'm actively aware of is "enjoyable": 樂 (T) 乐 (S) 楽 (J). I'm sure there are plenty more though. I intend to write a piece on kanji or at least the writing system as a whole in the future and that's just one of the quirks of it. I just dug up another one: "sell" 賣 (T) 卖 (S) 売 (J) and by extention with the simplifying 言 to 讠rule there's "read": 讀 (T) 读 (S) 読 (J).

So, in truth my Chinese down right sucks (I hate not knowing my mother tongue as well as my English), its ok enough, that I could get by, but I wish I could've studied it more when I was younger; a bit of an odd thing though, I can understand almost anything said to me in Cantonese, despite not being able to read/write it.

Same boat, different deck! My major Chinese dialect is hakka and my Cantonese is sort of basic. It's probably enough to get by but nothing mind-blowing. I can sort of talk to my cousins, one of which told me I looked like Harry Potter last year! :D My Japanese after 15 months of self-study is far stronger though. For a start I can insult people in Japanese but not Cantonese! :D

By the way, thanks to everyone for the comments. I wouldn't say I'm insecure without them but it does make me feel good about myself when I have praise! ^_^
LOL Well by enlightenment, I mean that at least now I have a better idea of what 恋 and 愛 mean. All I had were their dictionary definitions, which didn't help much. -_-
wow thx, was wondering the difference too. amazing info u got, thank you.

just also wondering... h!p46, what lvl of japanese are you at?
and also... I'm wondering if its hard to self-learn the Japanese language by internet sources, books and recordings... just need a liittle opinion, thx
Level? It's hard to judge but it's not a particularly high level. It's problematic because there's quite a lot of basic stuff I don't know yet I know quite a lot of legal terminology. Besides, a computer makes a person more intelligent if they know how to use it properly. When I'm at my computer my Japanese skill increases about 50 times! Self-learning is not for everyone. I don't think it's for me but I have no real choice. It's not difficult per se but you have to be motivated, focussed, perceptive and cautious. If you're not then you'll end up wasting a lot of time and in the worst case scenario, even worse than not learning something is learning something that is wrong! If you do go the self-study route, don't rush yourself.
Nice blog H!P46, really nice!

but well, a thing for you :
what do you think about 恋愛 (renai, koi+ai)
how can you define this feeling? :D
I already covered that in the last sentence of the fifth paragraph. :D
ah, yes, sorry! but i waited a little more uses for it :D
sorry :D
So yes, you make so many search, great, great job! :lol:
恋愛 implies sex 95% of the time at the very least like the English words "romance", "fling", "healthy relationship" often do. Otherwise it means love in the romantic sense but it's pretty clear when the respective meaning is intented. But the thing is that people know what kind of love 恋愛 is but with 愛 and 恋 separately, everyone has their own version. Makes learning fun. :D
wow so much analysis

This has been my analysis so far:
Ai: love to the family, love to husband/wife.
Koi: Romantic love. In japanese society, romantic love is not tradition, is like a westerner import and a fashion between youngsters. There are still, but decreasingly, arranged weddings, specially when the kids don't bother to get a couple.

I've seen in my dictionary, this title "Joan of Arc's Charity" translated as "Koi no joan of arc". It surprised me and still haven't got a very good explanation for it. But I think japanese think of it as "Joan of Arc's crazy love" but that is too sad for me. It's not like japanese don't have a word for charity.
Ren'ai: Romantic love. You could say that the "ai" adds a marital nuance.

One important thing to point is that Ai or Koi are not necessarily related to sex. That's why so often these two words are translated as just "love".

To me it's like that, and I don't see it contradicts in the core, anything been said here. I don't agree it is true that every japanese has their own version or opinion about these words though.
よ!

so i saw this blog entry quite some time ago, but i saw how long and detailed it was so i decided i would read it all later in one sitting. yah, i know, it's not that long of a read, but when i first saw it i really didn't feel like "thinking" at the time.

anyways, now that i've read it, here are my comments:

in my personal opinion, i tend to agree with most of these statements:

愛≥恋 where 愛 is sometimes equal to 恋 and sometimes greater.

* 恋 is temporary/愛 is perpetual
* 恋 is taken/愛 is given
* 恋 is something one person does/愛 is something two people develop

* 恋 is raging rapids/愛 is the deep blue sea
* 恋 is seeing pockmarks as dimples/愛 is seeing pockmarks and accepting them
* 恋 is a strong feeling that it was unrequited/愛 is impossible to express in a word
* 恋 is the beginning of 愛/愛 is the continuation of 恋
* 恋 is seeking your own happiness/愛 is experiencing joint happiness
* 恋 is away/愛 is home
* 恋 is play/愛 is serious
* 恋 is batting!/愛 is catch ball!

it's hard to make any definite statement about either of these, but if had to try and put it as simply as possible, 愛 would be more of the "emotional" side of love, and 恋 would be more of the "physical" side of love.

one of the most interesting parts about your entry was the part about the actual kanji.

恋という字を見てみると、 『心』という字が下についています。

恋には『下心』があります。

では、 愛という字を見てみると『心』は真ん中にあります。

愛は『真心』なのです。

下心=内心・心がけ
shitagokoro (secret intention) = back of one's mind/mind-set
真心=「真実の心」「偽りや飾りの無い心」「誠意」
makokoro (devotion) = true heart, no lies or deception, sincerity

i never even thought about looking at the actual kanji when trying to differentiate the two. this is probably my most favorite "explanation" in your entry.

so anways, sorry, this wasn't so much of a "comment" as "copying and pasting the parts i found interesting". ^_^
Thanx for clearing that up a bit :)

Can "koi" take the meaning of "crush"?

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