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I assume that ドア is a loanword from English, unless it's a big coincidence, yet, it's in the top 200 most used Japanese words by frequency in a Japanese words by frequency list. What's the original Japanese word for door? Any idea why they switched for the English one considering doors (or something similar foldable perhaps to cover an entrance) had to exist in Japan before western contact?

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Your suspicion is leading you down the right path.

ドア is in fact a loanword from English. According to Jisho.org, ドア is used in reference to a Western-style door. This is a door that opens on hinges.

Before the introduction of Western-style doors, you are also correct to assume that the Japanese had doors as well. These doors would slide on a track. In English, we would refer to them as sliding doors. In Japanese, you will refer to the Japanese-style door as 戸{と}. That being said, I can't really say that I have heard 戸 used very often. I think it's slightly archaic in its usage.

I will add that 障子{しょうじ} is another word for the Japanese-style door, but it specifically refers to the paper sliding door (with a wood/bamboo frame). Other sliding doors would not classify as 障子. I cannot say much about the usage, except it is used when you are being specific about doors. It appears in many texts though.

There is one word that will be used in reference to both Western and Japanese-style doors, 扉{とびら}. It is a commonly used word as well, because I recall having heard it used over the intercom when trains or elevators were opening\closing the doors saying:

扉が(開き\閉まり)ます。ご注意ください。

The thing is that I have also heard ドア in those cases as well.

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    I wonder if Doraemon's "Doko Demo Doa" from 1969 had anything to do with the widespread adoption of that word, or if its adoption pre-dates Doraemon... hmm.. – ericfromabeno Sep 13 '18 at 16:11
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    @ericfromabeno You could be right, but I suspect that usage was probably very common before that, if it was able to end up in Doraemon. – ajsmart Sep 13 '18 at 19:17
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Western style doors are 扉{とびら} which actually more loosely translates to "opening" I suppose. The sliding doors are called 障子{しょうじ}.

A linguist will have to answer the "why", although I suspect the simple answer is "because it's cool to use foreign words". One path that foreign words take to "common parlance" is through songs, so it wouldn't surprise me to find that the first popularization of the word ドア came from a song.

  • Do you have any examples of words that were clearly popularized by a song? – kuchitsu Sep 13 '18 at 14:58
  • Short answer, no I don't. Long answer, I'm not a language historian, but I would be very surprised if borrowed words like "love" "romance" "baby" "angel" "sweet" "sweetheart" and "darling" did not come to common parlance by imported music during the 1950's/60's/70's, either directly from those English songs, or by being incorporated into songs in Japanese. "Energy" strikes me as another possible word popularized by song. How do you decide if something is "clearly" spread by a song or not? Yes, English is in general popular in Japan, and so it will spread. But popular songs must spread it too. – ericfromabeno Sep 13 '18 at 15:34
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    Why was this downvoted? – istrasci Sep 13 '18 at 15:42
  • probably too much conjecture in the last half? And the first half states only simply what the other answer went into more detail on. Though I would expect that to result in a "null" rather than a "minus" myself. But I'm biased. ;) – ericfromabeno Sep 13 '18 at 15:51

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