What is the real meaning of ‘kodawaru’ (こだわる)? Also the meaning of ‘kodei’ (拘泥) is explained.


The real meaning of ‘kodawaru’ (こだわる)

Hello again, learners of Japanese language! Do you know the word ‘kodawaru’? This word and its inflections are often used in every scene and every walk of Japanese life. However, people often make inappropriate use of the word. Another expression ‘Kodei suru’ is similar in meaning to ‘kodawaru’. If you understand the true meaning of ‘kodawaru’, you will also understand the meaning of ‘Kodei suru’ more easily.

How ‘kodawaru’ (こだわる) is used in Japan

First, let us look at some examples of how ‘kodawaru’ is used now in Japan.

  • ‘zairyōni kodawatta ryōri’ (a cuisine cooked with some choice ingredients)
  • ‘sūpu no dashi ni kodawaru’ (to be very particularabout the soup stock)
  • ‘puro mo shiyōsuru kodawari no ippin’ (an excellent article even skilled professionals use)
  • ‘sasai na sonshitsu ni kadawaru’ (to worry too muchabout what is a minor loss)
  • ‘honshitsu de naku, keishiki ni kodawaru’ (to be really concernedabout its forms, not its essence)

(N.B. The word ‘kodawaru’ (こだわる) or its inflection ‘kodawari’ (こだわり) can be translated in such a variety of meanings underlined.)

Have you ever seen these expressions? The above examples ① to ③ are of good positive meaning, whereas ④ and ⑤ are of bad negative meaning.

You may wonder why the same word is used with these two different implications.


The original meaning of ‘kodawaru’ (こだわる) and its new meaning

The word ‘kodawaru’ basically has negative connotations and it means ‘to worry too much about something trivial; to be obsessed by something unimportant’.

‘Kodawaru’ is written「拘る」in Chinese character.「拘」‘kō’ is used in「拘束」‘kōsoku’ (restraint; restriction),「拘留」‘kōryū’(custody; detention) and other words which usually have negative connotations.

Therefore, the usage of the word ‘kodawaru’ in the above examples ① to ③ are awkward in its original sense, but such new usage is now accepted in the contemporary Japanese and explained so in dictionaries.

This new usage, or meaning, is explained in dictionaries as ‘to stick to one’s tastes/principles without any compromise; to be particular about something (good); to feel deeply attached to something (good)’.


The relation in meaning between ‘kodawaru’ (こだわる) and ‘kōdei’ (拘泥)

The word ‘kōdei’ (noun) or ‘kōdei suru’(verb) means the same as ‘kodawari’ (noun) or ‘kodawaru’ (verb) in the sense of ‘to worry too much about something trivial’.

As already mentioned above, ‘kodawaru’/‘kodawari’ has a new more positive meaning, whereas ‘kōdei’/‘kōdei suru’ has no such positive meaning.

The latter word is indeed often used by people, but it is rather more ‘highbrow’ word than the former, which is used more widely. Because of this sociolinguistic reason, ‘kodawaru’ may have had all the more reason for having acquired a new positive meaning in the contemporary Japanese.

In the Chinese character ‘kodawaru’ (こだわる) is written as「拘る」so you can see very clearly the relation in meaning between ‘kodawaru’ (こだわる; 拘る) and ‘kōdei’ (拘泥), 「拘」being used in both.

「泥」in「拘泥」is pronounced ‘doro’ or ‘dei’, meaning ‘mud; dirt’. It is also pronounced ‘nazumu’ (泥むor 滞む) and this ‘nazumu’means the same as ‘kodawaru’ (こだわる; 拘る).

So ‘kōdei suru’ (拘泥する) has the same meaning as ‘kodawaru’ (こだわる). Here you should visualize the picture in which people cannot really move out of the muddy bog but trapped in it, just as people are trapped by their trivial concerns.

Once again, 「拘」means ‘restriction; restraint’ and 「泥」means ‘mud; dirt’ and ‘bog; marsh’ by extension of the meaning. Because of having 「拘」 (restriction; restraint) in it, ‘kōdei’ (拘泥) might not have had a chance to have a more positive sense unlike ‘kodawaru’ (こだわる)!


Why and how did ‘kodawaru’ (こだわる) acquire the more positive sense?

It has not really been known why ‘kodawaru’ acquired the more positive sense.

However, it is surmised that the word may have acquired it by the fact that people who are ‘hooked’ by some trivia, which nobody else would care about, come to know a great deal more about it and in that process they may happen to notice some redeeming features of it, and thus the word may have acquired its positive sense.



Today I have explained the meanings and usage of the word ‘kadawaru’ and its relation to another word ‘kōdei’.


If you have any questions, do get in touch using the space for comments.

I shall also correct your sentences which incorporate these two words.

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