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Ko-kwai - mis-romanisation? What is the original word?

Asked by [ Editor ]

I am reading Lafcadio Hearn's "In Ghostly Japan", in which he talks about Japanese "incense parties" or "incense games". He transcribes those as "ko-kwai".

"Ko-kwai" is obviously not a Japanese word by modern standards. I assume "ko" refers to 香, but what could "kwai" refer to? The "ai" I would expect to be 会, but I'm puzzled by the today non-existent "kw". Was the author simply being creative in romanising a word, or did the word "kwai" actually exist in the olden Japan?

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2 answers


deceze [ Editor ]

Based on further uses of 'kwa' in the book, apparently the word I'm looking for is 香会 kōkai. For some reason the author transcribed か ka as 'kwa'. I wonder if the pronunciation was that different at the time?

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It actually existed. Before Hepburn and Kunren took place, this kind of Romanization was common. Such nonstandard transliterations can be seen on other things such as Meidi-ya brand honey (Which is 明治屋 in Kanji, めいじや in Hiragana, Meijiya in Hepburn-Romaji)

NN comments

That’s what I thought, a creative romanization. But what does it stand for? くあい? こわい?

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