How to Say Beautiful in Japanese Naturally

Say you’re watching the sun setting behind Mt. Fuji. How do you tell your Japanese friend that the scene is beautiful? Or perhaps your partner just walked in wearing a new dress. How would you compliment them? Let’s look at how to say beautiful in Japanese.


Beautiful in Japanese: Utukushii (美しい) or Kirei (綺麗)?Shizuoka Japan. Small Japanese buildings around a pond with blossoming cherry blossom trees and Mt. Fuji in the background.

The two most common words for beautiful in Japanese are 美しい (utsukushii) and 綺麗 (kirei). Both words mean beautiful in English, but there are subtle differences in how and when to use them.


綺麗(きれい)- Beautiful, Pretty, Lovely, Fair; Clean, Tidy, Neat

Because the kanji 綺麗 is difficult even for Japanese natives, this word is often written either in hiragana (きれい) or even katakana (キレイ). きれい has a broader range of use than 美しい does. Not only can you look at a beautiful sunset and say, “きれい!”, but you can say “きれい” about a room that has been well-cleaned as well.

1.  彼は部屋を綺麗にしました 
(Kare wa heya o kirei ni shimashita.)
He tidied up his room.


きれい is used more in spoken situations than 美しい is. It is also a na-adjective, meaning that きれい must always be followed by “な” if used directly before a noun.

2.  とてもきれいな靴ですね 
(Totemo kirei na kutsu desu ne.)
Those are some very pretty shoes.


If you want to say that something is not beautiful, you must use “じゃない” or “ではない” immediately after きれい.

3.  そのドレスはもう、きれいじゃない 
(Sono doresu ha mou, kirei ja nai.)
That dress isn’t beautiful anymore.


美しい(うつくしい)- Beautiful, Gorgeous, Picturesque, Pure

美しい is used more often in written Japanese than its counterpart きれい. Of the two, 美しい might be more suited to complimenting a person. However, in my experience, 美しい considered a bit more extravagant of a compliment than きれい.

Unlike きれい, the word 美しい has only one set definition: beautiful, gorgeous, etc.

1.  友情は美しいものです 
(Yūjou wa utsukushii mono desu.)
Friendship is a beautiful thing.


2.  彼女の目は美しかったです 
(Kanojo no me wa utsukushikatta desu.)
She had beautiful eyes.


While きれい is a na-adjective, 美しい is an i-adjective. This means that 美しい does not require “な” when used directly before a noun. It also has a different conjugation for the negative tense. To say something is not beautiful using 美しい, you must replace the ending “~い” with “~くない.”

3.  今日は曇っているから、空が美しくない 
(Kyō wa kumotteiru kara, sora ga utsukushikunai.)
Because it is cloudy, the sky isn’t beautiful.


How Do I Tell My Girlfriend That She’s Beautiful?Beautiful and young Asian woman crossing her arms in front of her, with her chin lightly touch her arms. She is looking and smiling at the camera.

When I asked my Japanese friends which of these words is best for compliments, they warned that using words like きれい or 美しい too early in a relationship can cause discomfort.

They recommended かわいい (kawaii) instead.

While かわいい is translated as cute in English, it is used in Japan to mean “pretty.” かわいい comes across more casually than きれい or うつくしい, so it’s probably the best word to use if you’re on a first date.  Although I’m sure any girl would love hearing that they are かわいい at any time.


How Do You Say “You Are Beautiful” in Japanese?

You may have learned that あなた (anata) means “you” in Japanese.

So it is correct to say あなたはきれいです。(Anata wa kirei desu.)

or あなたはかわいいです。(Anata wa kawaii desu.)

However, there are two things that makes this sentence unnatural.  Most likely, you will be saying this to a girl that you like (or are trying to get to like you) or someone you just want to compliment.  Even though あなた (anata) means “you” in Japanese, it is unnatural to use with someone you don’t know well.  In natural Japanese, you would just say the compliment “きれいです。”

It is much more natural to not say “you” in Japanese.  The reason for this is because when you are speaking to someone, that person already knows you are talking to them.  So saying “you” is redundant.  I know this sounds weird for English speakers.  However, Japanese speakers don’t say pronouns (I, you, him) when it is already understood from the context.  If you really wanted to say “you” with this compliment, 君 (kimi) would be better than あなた (anata).  But the best way would to be to use the person’s name.


(Rie san wa kawaii desu.)

Also, using です (desu) sounds very stiff and almost too formal.  It feels as if you are a robot giving a statement.  It’s more natural (and meaningful) if you just drop the です (desu).  Or to make it sound a little more friendly, you can say ね (ne) at the end, with or without the です (desu).



(Rie san wa kawaii.)
Rie, you are cute.

(Rie san wa kawaii (desu) ne.)
You’re cute Rie.



In Conclusion

If you plan on visiting Japan, beautiful is a useful word to know. Remember that there are different grammatical rules for きれい and 美しい. There are also some situations in which one might be better than the other. What are some things in Japan that you think are beautiful? If you have any photos, feel free to share them with other readers in the comments below! Thank you for reading!

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Erin Himeno

Erin hails from the east coast of the United States. She initially came to Japan to share her love of English and country cookin', but ended up getting married and adopting two chubby cats. Erin doesn't mind; she enjoys her life in Japan and writes about culture shock, culture share, and the exciting chapters in between.

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