How different between ‘Kirei’ and ‘Kawaii’ in Japanese?

Difference between ‘Kirei’ and ‘Kawaii’

‘Kirei’ and ‘Kawaii’ both are adjectives. ‘Kirei’ means ‘beautiful’ or ‘good-looking’, ‘Kawaii’ means ‘cute’ or ‘nice’.

‘Kirei’ is more likely used for women rather than men, it also is used to describe scenery, images (pictures, photos), movements of performances, music…

‘Kawaii’ is used for more things, like people, cloths, cosmetics, cars, houses, animals, flowers, etc. You can say ‘Kawaii’ also to describe abstract things, such as attitude, expressions, ideas, or invisible thing like voice.

Can we use it for my girlfriend?

When you admire your beautiful Japanese girlfriend, you can use both of ‘Kirei’ and ‘Kaiwaii.

‘Kirei’ is used to admire her appearance, such as her face, body, skin, hands, eyes or cloths.

You can say ‘Kawaii’ for wider range of things, not only for her appearance, also for her voice, attitude, ideas, expressions, cloths, make-up, hairstyle….

‘Kirei’ is not always same as ‘beautiful’ in English

Although ‘Kirei’ often is translated into ‘beautiful’ in English, but the meaning of beautiful is wider than the one of ‘Kirei’.

For example, when somebody says ‘the food was beautiful in that restaurant’, he/she might mean ‘
the food also was delicious, not only was good-looking.’ However in Japanese, people say ‘the food was Kirei in that restaurant’, it doesn’t always mean that the food was delicious.

In English you can also say ‘life is beautiful’. On the other hand, we don’t say ‘life is Kirei’. Sometime we say ‘life is Utsukushi-i’, using another Japanese word which means beautiful as well, but it sounds slightly poetic.