“Handsome” in Japanese – An Easy Guide to Compliment Men

Have you ever wondered how to say “handsome” in Japanese?

In Japanese culture, compliments play a significant role in social interactions. Therefore, it’s important to know the correct words to use and to recognize when someone is complimenting you.

A confident and handsome man making a gesture with both hands

In this article, we will learn different ways to describe “handsome” in the Japanese language and how these phrases are used in everyday conversations. So, with that, let’s jump right into it!

Giving Compliments in Japanese Culture

In Japan, giving a compliment is more than just saying nice words. Most Japanese people are quite shy. They often choose not to show their feelings openly, and this is more common with men.

When they do share their feelings, they might do it through small actions or quiet hints instead of directly with words.

It’s important to remember that giving compliments in Japanese culture can sometimes be seen as a sign of liking someone romantically. So, choosing the right words is really important. Think about how your compliment will be taken by the person hearing it.

And if you give someone a compliment and they don’t respond much or at all, don’t worry. It’s normal for some Japanese people to be reserved, even if they really like what you said.

How to Say “Handsome” in Japanese

You can say かっこいい (kakko ii) for “handsome” in Japanese. This term is often used to describe a man’s attractive appearance, being a good-looking guy or a cool guy.

The word かっこいい (kakko ii) is technically a compound word containing 2 words. Originally, it was かっこういい (kakko uii). Over time, it got shorter and is now commonly used as かっこいい (kakko ii).

かっこう (kakkou | 恰好) (with that extended vowel sound) is a noun that means appearance, as in the way someone or something looks. いい (ii| 良い) is an adjective that simply means “good” or “well.”

With these two words combined together, it becomes clear how and why they take on the definition that they carry today.

Example Sentences:

レオナルド・ディカプリオはかっこういいね。 (reonarudo dikapurio ha kakko ii ne. | レオナルドディカプリオは格好いいね。)

Leonardo Dicaprio is handsome.

かれ は ほんとうに かっこいい です。(kare wa hontou ni kakkoii desu. | 彼は本当に格好いいです。)

He is really handsome.

Other Words for “Handsome” in Japanese Language

The two other popular Japanese words for handsome” are イケメン (ikemen) and おとこまえ (otokomae | 男前). However, these words have somewhat different uses that are totally worth learning before putting them into action.

Let’s get to know each of them below!

イケメン (ikemen | Cool man)

The word イケメン (ikemen) is a derivative of the words いけている (iketeiru), which means “cool,” and the word メン (men), which can mean “man” (taken from English). It is used in complimenting the appearance of a man as well as his face or the physical.

This is a slang term that describes only the outside appearance or superficial beauty of a man. Some people think this word isn’t very serious, and most Japanese men might not really appreciate being called an イケメン (ikemen). Not only that, it often refers to a man who is slim and good-looking in a cute, almost feminine way.

It’d be a bit direct and maybe weird to use this term directly to someone unless you’re interested in being humorous, so try to use it only when speaking with friends. Also, this term is pretty exclusively used by young people in Japan.

Example Sentence:

きのうのかのじょのこいびとはイケメンだった! (kinnou no kanojo no koibito wa ikemen datta! | 昨日の彼女の恋人はイケメンだった!)

That girl’s boyfriend from last night was handsome!

おとこまえ (otokomae|男前 | Hot guy)

The Japanese word おとこまえ (otokomae|男前) is used to describe a man who is not only handsome in appearance but also embodies traditionally masculine qualities like strength and bravery.

This is an ideal man who is not just attractive but also very brave and kind. It’s like the hero you see in many stories. It has its roots in the old era of Japan, where male samurai were admired.

Calling someoneおとこまえ (otokomae|男前) is a big compliment, saying they are both handsome and have great character.

Example Sentence:

やつはほんとうにおとこまえだろうね? (yatsu wa hontou ni otokomae darou ne? | 奴は本当に男前だろうね)

(It’s because) He’s definitely a handsome (and upright) man, huh?

“Handsome” and “Non-handsome” in Japanese

In the Japanese language, the concept of “handsome” versus “non-handsome” is expressed with different words.

Let’s break down the meaning of each concept below.

にまいめ (nimaime | 二枚目)

にまいめ (nimaime | 二枚目) means “handsome” in the Japanese language. It is primarily used in the context of theater and entertainment. This term is used in many cases to describe a good-looking male actor or a leading man in a movie or a play.

In modern Japan, it also can be used by ordinary men who are charming and attractive. It’s a compliment to someone’s appearance and often their romantic appeal.

Example Sentence:

かれ は えいが で いつも にまいめ の やく を えんじています。 (kare wa eiga de itsumo nimaime no yaku o enjiteimasu. | 彼は映画でいつも二枚目の役を演じています。)

He always plays the nimaime (handsome leading) role in movies.

さんまいめ (sanmaime | 三枚目)

さんまいめ (sanmaime | 三枚目) refers to a man without good looks and usually one who is a goof in Japanese.

This word is usually used to describe someone who has a comedic or lighthearted personality. It’s a term more associated with personality and role than with physical appearance.

Example Sentence:

あの やくしゃ は さんまいめ の やく が とくい です。 (ano yakusha wa sanmaime no yaku ga tokui desu | あの俳優は三枚目の役が得意です)

That actor is skilled at playing sanmaime (comic) roles.

What Is the Difference: にまいめ (nimaime) vs さんまいめ (sanmaime)

Both terms have the same Kanji, 枚 (mai) and 目 (me). However, 枚 (mai) is the counter for flat objects in Japanese. While 目 (me) is used to count ordinal numbers. 二 (ni) and 三 (san) simply represent the numbers 2 and 3, respectively. Under the normal understanding, いちまいめ (ichi mai me | 一枚目) would mean “the first flat object.”

These two Japanese terms have an interesting history, and they’re still used today to describe different types of characters or people.

After some research, it looks like these words started being used a long time ago, during the Edo Period in Japan. They were part of how actors were listed for plays. にまいめ (nimaime | 二枚目)」was used for the second name on the list, which was the main and most important actor. Then the term さんまいめ (sanmaime | 三枚目) came after that, for the second actor, who was usually not as important in the play.

Understanding where these words come from can be a bit tricky, but we hope knowing this bit of history makes it clearer!

Other Popular Compliments in Japanese

There are other compliments used to praise various qualities in the Japanese language. Here are some popular ones, explained in simple terms.

センスがいい (sensu ga ii | センスがいい)

This term says that someone has a nice sense of style or clothing. It’s generally used directed at men (and makes for a pretty nice thing to say)!

Example Sentence:

かれ の あたらしい ジャケット、センス が いい ね! (kare no atarashii jaketto, sensu ga ii ne! | 彼の新しいジャケット、センスが良いね!)

His new jacket looks great, he has such good style!

にあっている (niatte iru | 似合っている)

にあっている (niatte iru) means that something suits someone, usually some article of clothing or even hairstyle. This term is unisex, safe, and a good one to remember.

Example Sentence:

そのぼうしはかのじょにとてもにあっている。 (sono boushi wa kanojo ni totemo niatte iru. | その帽子は彼女にとても似合っている。)

That hat really suits her.

モテそう (motesou)

This term basically means to be a ladies’ man, pointing to how many women seem to be attracted to the man being described. It can be used in both a platonic as well as a romantic sense. It comes from the word モテル (moteru), which means to be popular on the romantic tip.

Example Sentence:

かれ は とても モテそう だ。(kare wa totemo motesou da. | 彼はとてもモテそうだ。)

He seems like he would be very popular with women.

Wrap Up

In conclusion, there are quite a few ways to call a man “handsome” in Japanese or to just give them some general compliments.

Do your best to learn Japanese, study these words, and incorporate them into your own vocabulary.

And remember that Japanese native speakers can be really shy, so don’t sweat it if a well-placed compliment seems to fall on deaf ears!

がんばってください (ganbatte kudasai)! ^^

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