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In Japanese, 月が綺麗ですね (tsuki ga kirei desu ne) literarily means “The moon is beautiful, isn’t it?”. Surprisingly, however, it could also contain the hidden meaning — “I love you”.
It is widely believed that the romantic meaning of “The moon is beautiful, isn’t it?” in Japanese was coined by Sōseki Natsume (夏目漱石), a renowned Japanese novelist in the 19-20th century who was portrayed in the former 1000 yen banknote. Allegedly, its origin traces back to when he used to work as an English teacher — when he saw his student directly translating “I love you” into Japanese, he supposedly said, “Japanese people never say things like that shamelessly. You’d better translate it as 月が綺麗ですね (‘The moon is beautiful, isn’t it?’) or something”.
Note, however, that you should take this story with a grain of salt, as there is no record left that validates it. In fact, this Japanese website (to be cited in the next section as well) scrupulously searched for its authoritative source, to no avail, and even found that old publications from the 1970s introduced the story a little differently, saying it was “月がとっても青いなあ” (“The moon is very blue”), not 月が綺麗ですね (“the moon is beautiful, isn’t it”).
Moreover, you should also keep in mind that the poetic meaning of this phrase is recognised only among those who love Japanese slang or trivia. That means, even if you act as a romanticist and confess your feelings to a Japanese person you like using this phrase, he/she may not fathom your intention, unfortunately.
Misinformation on “Correct Response”
(TL;DR) There is no “correct” response to “The moon is beautiful, isn’t it?”, no matter how many people/websites elaborate and insist on its existence.
If you google (either in Japanese or English) how to respond to “The moon is beautiful, isn’t it” in Japanese, you’ll find a plethora of websites spreading the WRONG information that the “correct” response — in case you want to say “I love you, too” in a poetic manner — is “死んでもいいわ (shindemo ii wa)”, which literally means “I can die (happy)”.
First and foremost, it is NOT Sōseki Natsume who coined the phrase “shindmo ii wa”; it is Futabatei Shimei (二葉亭四迷), another famous Japanese novelist/translator who lived in the about same period of time as Sōseki (and thus it ended up being mixed with Soseki’s story). Secondly, “shindemo ii wa” is NOT the translation of “I love you, too”; it is of the Russian term “Ваша”, which means “yours” in English in the following context:
Я забыл все, я потянул ее к себе – покорно повиновалась ее рука, все тело ее повлеклось вслед за рукою, шаль покатилась с плеч, и голова ее тихо легла на мою грудь, легла под мои загоревшиеся губы…
– Ваша… – прошептала она чуть слышно.
I forgot everything, I drew her to me, her hand yielded unresistingly, her whole body followed her hand, the shawl fell from her shoulders, and her head lay softly on my breast, lay under my burning lips.
“Yours“. . . she murmured, hardly above a breath.
This is an excerpt from the Russian book “Ася” (and its English translation), written by the Russian novelist Ивáн Серге́евич (Ivan Turgenev). Although this woman shows her deep affection for the man by saying “Ваша (Yours)”, it does not explicitly mean “I love you, too”; let alone “I can die”. Therefore, Futabatei Shimei’s translation “死んでもいいわ” (“I can die”) is in fact very controversial, to the point that you might call it a wrong translation. Refer to this Japanese website for more details.
In conclusion, it is doubly wrong to say that “I can die happy” is the “correct” response to “The moon is beautiful, isn’t it”, because (1) shindemo ii wa (“I can die happy”) has nothing to do with the (alleged) origin of “The moon is beautiful, isn’t it?”; and (2) it is not even the translation of “I love you, too”. Clearly, this misinformation has been spread by a myriad of websites and social media posts that blindly copy and paste the contents of other websites without fact-checking, which reminds us of how important it is to take the information online with a grain of salt.
Even though there is no “correct” response to “The moon is beautiful, isn’t it?”, here are a couple of witty and funny replies found on the internet, as well as a realistic response in the end.
You: The moon is beautiful, isn’t it’? [“I love you.”]
Response-1 [a witty and unrealistic response meaning “I love you, too”]
Yes, I wish I could watch it with you for good.
Response-2 [a witty and unrealistic response meaning “I’m sorry”]
(You) may think so because (you) cannot touch it.
Response-3 [a realistic response]
Yep. By the way, you said you had something important to tell me, right? What is it?
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