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Some words are written with katakana, but also have kanji. For example:

  • コーヒー 珈琲
  • ページ 頁

How did this happen? They are loanwords, but no doubt had Japanese equivalents before these variants were imported. Is that the case? And are these original words now forgotten?

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I'm not sure, but I think 珈琲 is used only because it is a phonetic equivalent. –  Chris Harris Jul 16 '12 at 21:43
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コーヒー is not an English loanword. It is a loanword from Dutch koffie. –  sawa Jul 17 '12 at 0:40
    
Now that makes sense, as it was apparently the Dutch who introduced it. So it was probably written 珈琲 for a few centuries, then コーヒー was added. Oh, did you downvote me. Sad :( –  Synesso Jul 17 '12 at 1:12
    
Shogakukan and other sources suggest that this is from both or either Dutch and/or English. 珈琲 or 咖啡 is how "coffee" is spelled in Chinese, with a reading of kāfēi likely coming from Spanish, Portuguese, or French. It's likely that this spelling was coined in China and later borrowed into Japanese, not least since the Japanese on'yomi of kahi doesn't match the Japanese word コーヒー very well. (Kanji spellings coined in Japan tend to fit better.) –  Eiríkr Útlendi Jun 13 at 17:02
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up vote 5 down vote accepted

had Japanese equivalents before the English variants were imported

Coffee is not native to Japan, and did not have an equivalent; that kanji sequence is ateji.

"Page" is that kanji, but it's properly pronounced 「けつ」 in sequences.

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Thanks. This explains it. Although, even though coffee is not native, it has been there for about 500 years. I imagine it was not called コーヒー until the 20th century. –  Synesso Jul 16 '12 at 21:51
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The Interweb says that the Dutch brought it over in the 18th century, but no one cared until the mid 20th century. –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jul 16 '12 at 21:53
    
Just found something that called it 「可否茶」. Wonder how accurate that is... –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jul 16 '12 at 21:55
    
可否茶館 was apparently the name of the first coffee house in Japan, opened in 1888 in Ueno. (according to jwiki) –  nkjt Jul 17 '12 at 9:06
    
珈琲 may count as ateji, but it's worth noting that this spelling comes from Chinese, where it has a reading of kāfēi in Mandarin, likely coming from Spanish, Portuguese, or French. The Japanese on'yomi of kahi doesn't match the Japanese word コーヒー very well. (Kanji spellings coined in Japan as ateji tend to fit the readings better.) And FWIW, that old coffee house name of 可否茶 and its literal meaning of "Can Not Tea" makes me think of fun goofy marketing like "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter". :) –  Eiríkr Útlendi Jun 13 at 17:04
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