Kirei vs. Kawaii: What’s the Difference in Meaning?

As I wrote in this article, Kirei (きれい/綺麗) is a synonym for Utsukushii (うつくしい/美しい), meaning beautiful.

And Kawaii (かわいい/可愛い), which makes up an indispensable part of the Japanese subculture, can also mean beautiful.

Kawaii vs. Kirei vs. Utsukushii

Kirei or Kawaii

As you know, Kawaii is the word for cute in English, but it is most commonly used when it comes to the appearance of a woman.

Kawaii is a convenient expression that can mean cute/pretty/beautiful, because of which it is the most often used in speaking of the three. But the core meaning is cute.

Meanwhile, Kirei can mean beautiful but doesn’t mean cute, and the core meaning is pretty. A woman with an appearance between pretty and cute is described using the term Kire-Kawa (キレカワ), by the way.

As for the rest, Utsukushii only means beautiful and doesn’t mean cute/pretty. And probably because of that, it is the least used in speaking.

Instead, Utsukushii can appeal more profoundly to the mind than Kirei and is more often used in writing.



Hi, I'm Tomo, a Japanese blogger living in Niigata Prefecture, Japan. For the purpose of enriching your life, I would like to introduce things about Japan on this blog, especially unique Japanese products, cooking recipes, cultures, and facts and trivia.

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