Kanji Clinic #84, The Japan Times, February 20, 2007
"Hearts smolder in rabu rabu (hot love) kanji"


Last Wednesday was Valentine's Day, and as usual Japanese women of all ages filled the coffers of confectionary companies by purchasing mountains of boxed chocolates. Coworkers, schoolmates, and even the boss at the office were the recipients of comparatively inexpensive 義理チョコ(giri choko, obligation chocolate), while the object of a female’s true affection got the pricey 本命チョコ (honmei choko, literally, “most likely candidate chocolate,” i.e., chocolate for the man most likely to win the woman’s heart).

In honor of Cupid’s day, let’s take a look at three kanji representing “love” and some of the compound words (jukugo) they comprise. (Onyomi readings are in upper case).

Ai,” (愛) is a term roughly equivalent to the English word “love.” Some jukugo containing 愛 deal with love between the sexes, while others, such as 母性愛, (boseiai, maternal love), 博愛(hakuai, philanthropy), and 愛犬家 (aikenka, dog lover), do not. Look for the kanji component 心 (kokoro, heart) at the center of 愛.

A husband who really loves his wife is called 愛妻家 (aisaika, love-wife-performer of an action), and if his affection is reciprocated the couple is said to be in the enviable position of 相思相愛 (soushi souai, mutual-thinking-mutual-love, , "being in love with each other").

熱愛 (netsuai, hot love) means “passionate love,” but these days 熱愛 is more commonly referred to as ラブラブ (raburabu), the “l”- and-“v”-deprived Japanese phonetical approximation of “love, love.”愛人 (aijin, love-person) means “lover,” but 恋人(koibito, romantic love-person) is the more colloquial term for one’s main squeeze.

Many other compound words dealing with romance feature the love-kanji 恋 (REN, koi, romantic love). You will find 心 (heart) in this character as well, at the bottom, along with what looks like a variation of 赤 (red) burning with ardor at the top.

“One’s first love” is 初恋 (hatsukoi). And in describing the lovelorn, 失恋 (shitsuren, lost love), 片恋 (katakoi, one-sided love), and 恋煩い (koiwazurai, lovesickness) are indispensible.

愛 joined to 恋 yields 恋愛 (renai, a love affair). Married people in Japan are often asked if their union resulted from 恋愛 or whether it was arranged. My 70-year-old mother recently had a love affair and remarried, as do many widows and widowers her age in the United States. In Japan, romance among seniors is so uncommon it has a name of its own: 老いらくの恋 (oiraku no koi, elderly romance).

In addition to 愛 and 恋, both general-use kanji, the less commonly used 惚 (ho-reru) means “to fall in love with.” The heart component (心) lies at the bottom right-hand side of 惚. Perhaps it was 一目惚れ (hitomebore, one-eye-fall in love, “love at first sight”) for you and your true love. Be careful not to boast to friends or coworkers about the great thing you have going, though, or you will be accused of spewing お惚気 (onoroke, boasts about a lover/spouse) and chastised with the sarcastic rejoinder: “Gochisousama” (Thanks a lot for treating me to that).

So which of these kanji do the Japanese use in conveying the sentiment “I love you” to their 恋人 (koibito, lover)? In this, the land of understatement, the phrase most commonly used is not the literal 愛している (ai shite iru, I love you) but a heartfelt 好きだよ (suki da yo, I like you). Those who felt especially amorous on Valentine’s Day last week may have taken it to the limit with an effusive 大好きだよ (daisuki da yo, I REALLY like you)
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QUIZ
Match each of the following love-related compounds (followed by a key word for each of its comprising characters) with its English meaning and Japanese pronunciation. Example: 純愛 (pure/love). Answer: platonic love, junai 

1. 惚薬 (fall in love/medicine)
2. 同性愛 (same/sex/love)
3. 横恋慕 (side/romantic love/adore)
4. 恋恋とする (fall in love/fall in love)
5. 愛国心 (love/country/heart)
6. 悲恋 (sad/romantic love)
7. 愛車 (love/car)
8. 恋焦がれる (romantic love/scorch)

a. homosexuality, douseiai
b. burn with passion, koikogareru
c. illicit love, yokorenbo
d. patriotism, aikokushin
e. one’s own car, aisha
f. be heavily involved romantically, renren to suru
g. disappointed love, hiren
h. love potion, horegusuri

Answers: 1.h 2.a 3.c 4.f 5.d 6.g 7.e 8.b

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