There are plenty of ways to say “beautiful” in Japanese. The most common way is to say 美しい (utsukushii) which quite literally translates to “beautiful”.
美しい (utsukushii) is what’s called an i-adjective. Its meaning is considerably more intense than the English word “beautiful”.
In short, when you describe something as 美しい (utsukushii), you’re conveying a little more than simply “beautiful”.
In Japanese, saying 美しい (utsukushii) conveys an image of “true beauty”. Therefore it should be reserved for when you feel something is truly breathtaking.
There are many other ways to say “beautiful” in Japanese, such as 綺麗 (kirei).
綺麗 (kirei) is a less intensive version of 美しい (utsukushii) that also means “beautiful”.
However, unlike 美しい (utsukushii), you can use 綺麗 (kirei) to describe the cleanliness of something too. If something is 綺麗 (kirei), it means it’s tidy and/or clean.
To call someone beautiful in Japanese, you can use either the more intense 美しい (utsukushii), or the pleasant 綺麗 (kirei).
You will become increasingly aware of the myriad intricacies associated with many Japanese words and phrases as your studies progress.
There are also many ways to conjugate 美しい (utsukushii) and 綺麗 (kirei) to express things such as “beauty”, “was beautiful” and so on.
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Table of Contents
Beautiful in Japanese
美しい (utsukushii) is one of the two main ways to say “beautiful” in Japanese. It is an i-adjective that can be used to describe something or someone that is truly beautiful.
The kanji is 美 which directly translates to “beauty” or “beautiful”.
美しい (utsukushii) is a very powerful word that means “beautiful” in Japanese. It is much stronger than the English word.
This means that calling someone or something 美しい (utsukushii) should be done sparingly, and only when you honestly feel the sheer beauty radiating from the person or thing.
You’re Beautiful in Japanese – 美しい (utsukushii)
To compliment someone and say “you’re beautiful” in casual Japanese you can simply say the person’s name +は美しい (ha utsukushii).
[name] ha utsukushii.
In Japanese, instead of referring to others as “you” like we do in English, you should instead use the person’s actual name. You can use あなた (anata) which does mean “you”, however calling someone who is not your significant other あなた (anata) can sound unnatural. Therefore using the person’s name is the best way to address them!
美しい (utsukushii) is a considerably intense word. Hence, you’re best off using it to describe someone only when you feel that they are truly beautiful. There is a lot of emphasis on “truly”! Overuse of this word to compliment someone can radiate abnormal vibes.
Beautiful on The Inside
Unique to 美しい (utsukushii), you can use this word to describe someone or something as being beautiful both on the outside and inside. This means that 美しい (utsukushii) can describe the fundamental core of something as being beautiful.
For example, you could describe a particular place as 美しい (utsukushii).
kono mura ha totemo utsukushii.
This village is really beautiful.
By calling the village 美しい (utsukushii), you refer not only to its outside appearance but also to the spirit and history of the village as a whole. For that reason, 美しい (utsukushii) is a very pure and sophisticated adjective. It has different nuances compared to the other ways to say “beautiful” in Japanese.
Something is Beautiful in Japanese
There are two ways to say “something is beautiful” in Japanese using 美しい (utsukushii). Firstly, you can use the sentence structure [noun]は美しい, replacing [noun] with the subject. For example:
keshiki ha utsukushii.
The scenery is beautiful.
The second way is to use 美しい (utsukushii) as a noun modifier. As 美しい (utsukushii) is an adjective, it can be placed before a noun to modify it.
utsukushii monogatari data.
That was a beautiful story.
You do not need to do any conjugations with 美しい (utsukushii) when you use it to modify nouns. Simply say it before a noun to describe it as beautiful.
The Word For Beauty in Japanese
The word for “beauty” in Japanese is 美しさ (utsukushisa). You can use 美しさ (utsukushisa) to refer to the beauty of someone or something.
nihon ha shizen no utsukushisa de yuumei da.
Japan is famous for its natural beauty.
In Japanese, when you replace the final い (i) of an i-adjective with さ (sa) you nominalise it. What this means is that you’re essentially transforming the adjective into a noun. 美しい (utsukushishii), an adjective which means “beautiful”, becomes 美しさ (utsukushisa) a noun that means “beauty”.
You can do this with any i-adjective in Japanese. For na-adjectives, simply replace the な (na) with さ (sa).
Beautiful Person in Japanese
- Beautiful Person/Woman.
A great way to compliment someone is to call them a beautiful person. In Japanese, you can do this by calling them 美人 (bijin). The word 美人 (bijin) is a noun that you can use to describe someone as being naturally beautiful.
You’ll often hear 美人 (bijin) used to compliment someone’s appearance rather than their personality. I have composed an ultimate guide titled “How to say Soul in Japanese” that covers this in more detail.
Furthermore, 美人 (bijin) is a compliment that is mostly used for women in Japanese.
aikawarazu bijin da ne.
You’re as beautiful as ever.
As mentioned earlier, it’s very common to omit pronouns in Japanese when the context is clear. For that reason, in the above example, the pronoun “you” has been omitted from the Japanese text.
The word 美人 (bijin) is composed of two kanji. Firstly, 美 which means “beautiful” appears in 美しい (utsukushii) (explained above). The second kanji is 人 (hito), which when used as part of a compound, reads as じん (jin). 人 (hito) means “person” in Japanese.
Combined they make 美人 (bijin), which quite literally means “beautiful person”. Despite this 美人 (bijin) is still mostly used to describe a beautiful woman. That is not to say that complimenting anyone else with 美人 (bijin) is wrong though. It’s entirely down to the individual.
The Japanese Word For Beautiful Girl
- Beautiful Girl.
To specify that the person you’re complimenting is a female, you can use 美女 (bijo). When you call someone 美女 (bijo), you’re calling them a “beautiful girl”, or “beautiful woman” in Japanese.
kanojo ha sekai de ichiban bijo da.
She is the most beautiful girl in the world.
The only difference between 美女 (bijo) and 美人 (bijin) is the final kanji. In 美女 (bijo), the final kanji is 女, which means “woman” or “female” in Japanese. So quite literally, the word 美女 (bijo) means “beautiful female”.
Pretty in Japanese
The second out of the two main ways to call something or someone pretty in Japanese is 綺麗 (kirei). When you want to describe an object or person having a pleasant appearance, you can use 綺麗 (kirei).
Unlike 美しい (utsukushii), 綺麗 (kirei) strictly refers to the appearance of something or someone. 綺麗 (kirei) is the best way to describe something or someone as beautiful in a general sense.
For example, you could compliment someone on being pretty or beautiful:
kami ha chou kirei da ne.
Your hair is so pretty.
Note how in the above example, the pronoun “you” has been omitted. This is because the omission of pronouns is common in Japanese when the context is clear.
You can also describe an object as being pretty:
takusan kirei na shashin wo motteru ne.
You have so many beautiful photos, don’t you?
Where 美しい (utsukushii) is an i-adjective, 綺麗 (kirei) is a na-adjective, despite ending with “i”. This means that when you modify a noun with 綺麗 (kirei) you have to include the な (na) between the adjective and noun.
For example, “beautiful scenery” in Japanese, would be 綺麗な景色。
kirei na keshiki wo miru no ga suki.
I like looking at the beautiful scenery.
By itself, 綺麗な (kireina) simply means “beautiful” or “pretty”. When な (na) is included, it becomes 綺麗な (kireina) which works as a noun modifier. It is important to remember to include the な (na) when 綺麗 (kirei) comes before a noun. This is a question that often appears in the JLPT exams!
Describing Something as Clean/Tidy
The na-adjective 綺麗 (kirei), can also be used to describe something as being clean or tidy. For instance, if you notice that your friend’s room was surprisingly free of clutter today, you could say:
kyou heya ga kirei da ne.
Your room is clean today, isn’t it?
You’re also not limited to using 綺麗 (kirei) to describe clean objects or places either. You can also use 綺麗 (kirei) to refer to a “clean” person. For example, you could say after a shower:
shawa- kimochiyokatta! kirei ni natta.
The shower was refreshing! I feel clean now.
You can only describe clean or tidy things with 綺麗 (kirei). Using 美しい (utsukushii) would sound unnatural.
The Kanji For “Beautiful” 綺麗 (kirei)
The kanji for 綺麗 (kirei) is, as you may have noticed, quite complex. For this reason, it’s actually common to simply write it in hiragana instead.
In hiragana, 綺麗 (kirei) is きれい.
The first kanji is 綺, which means “beautiful”. However, this kanji is rarely seen outside of 綺麗 (kirei). The second kanji is 麗 which means “lovely”, “beautiful” or “graceful”.
You may see 綺麗 (kirei) written in kanji in newspapers and articles, but not so much elsewhere.
Different to 美しい (utsukushii), you can use 綺麗 (kirei) often in general conversation to describe the beauty of something or someone.
For instance, say you’re out hiking and you reach the top of the mountain. You turn around and are greeted with a beautiful view. In English, we may say something along the lines of “wow, amazing!”
In Japanese, it’s common to say 綺麗 (kirei)! Essentially “it’s beautiful!”.
Cute in Japanese
To describe something as “cute” in Japanese, you can use the i-adjective 可愛い (kawaii). Sometimes, 可愛い (kawaii) is written in hiragana, かわいい.
The Japanese word for cute, 可愛い (kawaii) has a much broader meaning and usage compared to the English word. This is predominantly because of the development of Japan’s cute culture.
The cute culture has become increasingly dominant in Japanese popular culture, aesthetics, entertainment and even mannerisms.
The word 可愛い has a much wider range of definitions when put into the dictionary. However, you can use it to describe anything (including objects & people) that you recognise as being anything along the lines of cute, adorable, charming or pretty.
To describe an object:
kono fuku ha chou kawaii!
These clothes are so cute!
Because 可愛い (kawaii) can mean more than “cute”, using it to compliment somebody can definitely make them happy.
anata ha hontouni kawaii yo.
You are really cute.
When you know the person’s name, it’s almost always better to substitute あなた (anata) or any other Japanese variant of “you” for it. This is because あなた (anata) is typically used between couples.
可愛い (kawaii) Kanji
Honestly, I’ve heard native Japanese speakers call all kinds of things 可愛い (kawaii). Even things I wouldn’t even consider to associate with the word “cute” in English, such as a laptop.
This is mainly because of the many meanings 可愛い (kawaii) has. It can stretch out to mean “pretty” or “lovely”.
What’s more is that when we look at the kanji of 可愛い (kawaii), the literal meaning becomes clearer. The first kanji, 可 means “can” or “passable”. This is followed by 愛, the kanji for “love” and “affection”. This means we can understand the meaning of 可愛い (kawaii) to be “can love”.
Therefore, when there’s an object that you conclude it’s possible to love, you can technically refer to it as 可愛い (kawaii).
The Word For Handsome
The word イケメン (ikemen) is a noun that can be used to refer to a good-looking male. It is a very casual word that’s most commonly used by young people.
It is said that イケメン (ikemen) is derived from two different elements. The former half of イケメン (ikemen) is derived from the verb イケてる (iketeru) which means “cool” or “stylish”. The latter half comes from メンズ (menzu), which is “men” rendered in Japanese phonetics, and 面 (men) meaning “surface”.
イケメン (ikemen) refers to strictly the appearance of a male. When one perceives another to be handsome, イケメン (ikemen) can be used to express it.
sakki no tenin ha chou ikemen datta ne.
The store clerk a minute ago was super handsome.
As イケメン (ikemen) is a noun, it can’t be conjugated like 綺麗 (kirei) or 美しい (utsukushii) can. Referring to yourself as an イケメン (ikemen) is also uncommon.
Instead, you could use a more general word like かっこいい (kakkoii).
More ways to Compliment
The easiest way to understand かっこいい (kakkoii) is to interpret it as “cool” in Japanese.
かっこいい (kakkoii) is an i-adjective that is rarely written in its kanji form 格好いい (かっこいい). You can use かっこいい (kakkoii) to describe a person as being “cool” in Japanese. However, it can also mean “handsome”, “attractive” “smooth” or even “dreamy” depending on the context.
For instance, you could describe someone as being handsome:
- 髪型はいいね！ かっこいいよ！
kami gata ha ii ne! kakkoii yo!
Your hair is great! It’s cool/handsome!
You can also use かっこいい (kakkoii) to compliment someone on a skill they have:
aisu suke-to jouzu da ne! chou kakkoii.
You’re so good at ice skating! You’re so cool/smooth.
What’s more, is that you can also describe an object as being かっこいい (kakkoii):
sono kutsu ha kakkoii ne.
Those shoes are so cool.
You can also use かっこいい (kakkoii) to describe someone as “dreamy” which I explain in this ultimate guide.
Conjugating かっこいい (kakkoii)
Conjugating かっこいい (kakkoii) can be tricky at first glance. This is because it’s very easy to assume that because it’s an i-adjective you can modify the ending い (i).
For example, when you want to conjugate かっこいい (kakkoii) into the te-form, you might think it’d be
かっこいって (kakkoitte) or かっこいくて (kakkoikute). However, both of these are wrong.
To understand how to properly conjugate かっこいい (kakkoii), it’s important to know its components.
As mentioned, the kanji for かっこいい (kakkoii) is 格好いい (かっこいい). By removing the いい (ii) we are left with 格好 (kakkou), which is an actual word meaning “shape”, “form” of “figure”.
This means that the いい (ii) part of かっこいい (kakkoii) is actually the Japanese for “good”. If you’ve studied Japanese before, you may recall that to conjugate, いい (ii) we have to turn it into 良い (yoi).
Therefore, to conjugate かっこいい (kakkoii), we first have to change it into かっこよい (kakkoyoi). From here we can conjugate it like normal:
- かっこいい – cool.
- かっこよくない – not cool.
- かっこよかった – was cool.
- かっこよくなかった – was not cool.
- かっこよくて – (te-form) cool.
Lovely in Japanese
When you realise something as being beautiful, wonderful or lovely, you can use 素敵 (suteki) to express it.
素敵 (suteki) can be used to describe pretty much anything as being “lovely”. For example, it can be used to describe the appearance of an object or person. It can also be used to describe a thought, idea, action or experience.
To describe the appearance of someone:
kare ha suteki na egao wo misete kureta.
He showed me a lovely smile.
To describe an object:
neku tai ha suteki da ne!
That is a lovely necktie!
Or even describe an experience:
suteki na tabi datta ne.
That was a lovely trip.
Similar to 綺麗 (kirei), 素敵 (suteki) is a na-adjective that requires a な (na) to follow it when modifying a noun. For instance, 素敵な笑顔 (suteki na egao) would mean “lovely smile”. They test you on this in the JLPT exams, so it’s handy to remember!
Elegant in Japanese
When something (or someone) is extraordinarily beautiful, you may wish to refer to it (or them) as elegant. The word for elegant in Japanese is 上品 (jouhin).
You can use the word 上品 (jouhin) to describe anything that you perceive as refined or graceful. 上品 (jouhin) can be used to compliment someone or to describe something.
For instance, you could simply say to someone:
jouhin da ne.
Or, you may wish to describe something:
sono yubiwa ha jouhin desu.
That ring is elegant (formal speech).
Both the English word elegant, and the Japanese word 上品 (jouhin) refer to something that is of high class or sophisticated. Therefore you can also use 上品 (jouhin) the same way we use the “ly” suffix in English. For example, you may want to say “elegantly”. To say “elegantly” in Japanese, simply attach に (ni) to the end of 上品 (jouhin).
This makes it 上品に (jouhin ni). This enables us to say things such as:
totemo jouhin ni taberu ne.
You eat very elegantly, don’t you?
It’s also important to know that 上品 (jouhin) is a na-adjective. This means that上品 (jouhin) has to be followed by な (na) in order to modify the following verb. For instance:
jouhinn na osara wo kaitai.
I want to buy an elegant plate.
Gorgeous in Japanese
The best word for gorgeous in Japanese is 豪華 (gouka). The word 豪華 (gouka) can be used as an adjective to describe a noun, or it can be used as a noun itself.
As an adjective, you can use 豪華 (gouka) to describe something as extravagant. For instance:
sono hoteru ha gouka da ne.
That hotel is gorgeous.
The word “gorgeous” typically has an element of high quality or expensiveness to it. The word 豪華 (gouka) is the same and can imply something as being high class.
sonna gouka na shokuji no tame ni okane tarinai.
I don’t have enough money for such a luxurious meal.
The kanji for 豪華 (gouka) explains the meaning very well. The first kanji is 豪 which means “great” or “overpowering”. The second kanji, 華 means “splendour”. This means that 豪華 (gouka) literally means “great splendour”. What better way to express gorgeous in Japanese!
Japanese Names That Mean Beautiful
Japanese names consist of a surname, or the family name, followed by the first name. They are written with kanji, however, can also be romanised. Each kanji of a Japanese name will have its own individual meaning that contributes to the overall meaning of the name.
Some names may also sound similar, however, the kanji may be different. This is why you may see Japanese people ask each other “how is your name written” in order to clarify the kanji.
As we’ve covered in this guide, 美しい (utsukushii) is a common, yet strong way to say “beautiful” in Japanese. The kanji for 美しい (utsukushii), 美, can also be used in Japanese names. However, its reading changes to み (mi). The kanji 美 can then be put together with other kanji for a deeper meaning and complete name.
For example, the Japanese name 愛美 (aimi) consists of two kanji characters. Firstly, 愛, which means “affection” or “love”, followed by 美 (mi) which means beautiful.
List of Japanese Names Meaning “Beautiful”
Here is a list of 10 Japanese names that mean “beautiful” in Japanese:
- 愛美 (aimi) – 愛 (ai) “love, affection” and 美 (mi) “beautiful”.
- 明美 (akemi) – 明 (ake) “bright” and 美 (mi) “beautiful”.
- 絵美 (emi) – 絵 (e) “picture, painting” and 美 (mi) “beautiful”.
- 貴美子 (kimiko) – 貴 (ki) “valuable” with 美 (mi) “beautiful”, and 子 (ko) “child”.
- 真美 (mami) – 真 (ma) “real, true” and 美 (mi) “beautiful”.
- 美智子 (michiko) – 美 (mi) “beautiful”, with 智 (chi) “wisdom, intellect” and 子 (ko) “child”.
- 美保 (miho) – 美 (mi) “beautiful” and 保 (ho) “protect”.
- 美咲 (misaki) – 美 (mi) “beautiful” and 咲 (saki) “blossom”.
- 美優 (miyu) – 美 (mi) “beautiful” with 優 (yu) “excellence, gentleness”.
- 夏美 (natsumi) – 夏 (natsu) “summer” and 美 (mi) “beautiful”.
Beautifying Words in Keigo
There is a concept in Japanese that refers to the beautification of words. This is typically only applied to honorific speech, known as Japanese Keigo.
Japanese Keigo is used during situations when one must show the utmost respect to the other. For instance, a waiter talking with a customer.
When speaking in this honorific speech, it’s common to attach the prefixes ご (go) or お (o) to words to beautify them. By doing this you can increase the amount of politeness felt in your speech.
- お (o) is attached to words with the Japanese kunyomi reading.
- ご (go) is attached to words with the Chinese onyomi reading.
For more information on distinguishing the different readings, I have composed a complete ultimate guide here.
For example, the word for alcohol in Japanese is 酒 (sake). However, you can beautify the word by attaching お (o), making it お酒 (osake). As another example, you can also do the same with the word 花 (hana), meaning flower. Therefore, it becomes お花 (ohana).
By doing this, you add more politeness to your speech.
You can’t do this with every single word though. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Meaning Change During Beautification
There are a few words that have the prefix ご (go) or お (o) already attached to them. The word お腹 (onaka) for example, means stomach. The お (o) prefix here is baked into the word. You cannot beautify it any further.
On the other hand, if you were to take away the お (o) in an attempt to sound more casual, the meaning would change. This means that お腹 (onaka), meaning “stomach” would become 中 (naka), meaning “inside”. Therefore you shouldn’t remove prefixes that are already a part of the word.
In fact, there are some words that have the honorific ご (go) or お (o) prefixes attached to them, even though they’re not polite or respectful.
For example, the word お尻 (oshiri), meaning “butt” in Japanese already has the お (o) prefix attached. This is similar to the word お腹 (onaka), however, there will be some words you’d probably not expect to be already beautified like the word for butt.
Commonly Heard Phrases
There are a few phrases that you may hear in Japan that utilise the beautifying concept.
For instance, you could be at a drive-through for McDonald’s, and you will be asked:
go chuumon onegai itashimasu.
I’d like to request your order, please.
The keyword here is ご注文 (go chuumon), meaning “order” in Japanese.
Another phrase you may hear, or perhaps may even want to use yourself when speaking with a stranger.
Shall I help you?
This phrase stems from the verb 手伝う (tetsudau), meaning “to help” in Japanese. It is the politest way possible to ask someone in Japanese if they need some help.
That Was Beautifully Done!
Sometimes you may wish to encourage someone by expressing how well you think they’ve done at something. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to compliment someone on a job well done in Japanese.
Not done yet? Take a look at the collection of How-To Japanese Ultimate Guides.
Recommended How-To Guides:
Okay in Japanese [Ultumate Guide]
Hope in Japanese [Ultimate Guide]
Good Luck in Japanese [Ultimate Guide]
Soul in Japanese [Ultimate Guide]
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