Friday, March 3, 2017

nakama 仲間

In Japanese, the word nakama 仲間 means "someone who's in the same group as you," or can refer to the group itself. This group is, often, a group of friends, colleagues, etc. But it can also mean other sort of groups, like in a "birds of same feather" sense, for example.

"Friends"

The way nakama 仲間 is used in most shounen 少年 anime is in the sense of "group of friends." If you're my nakama, you're one of my friends.

オレの仲間は絶対殺させやしなーいよ! transcription from manga ナルト
Manga: Naruto ナルト
  • ore no
    nakama wa

    zettai korosase ya
    shinaai yo!
    オレの 仲間は 絶対 殺させや しなーいよ!
    [I] absolutely won't let [you] kill my friends!
    • korosaseru 殺させる
      To let kill.
      (causative form of korosu 殺す)
    • ya shinai やしない
      wa shinai はしない
      To not do.

Work "Colleagues"

The word nakama doesn't always mean your friend. When talking about work, nakama can refer to your work "colleagues," whether you like them or not.

"Members" of Group

Similarly, nakama can refer to someone who has joined you in a group activity. In this case, nakama has a meaning like "member."

バカヤロー!! もちろん お前も仲間だよ!! transcript from manga 魁!! クロマティ高校
Manga: Sakigake!! Cromartie Koukou 魁!! クロマティ高校 (Chapter 14)
  • Context: a character feels left out of the group.
  • baka yaroo!!
    バカヤロー!!
    [You] idiot!!
  • mochiron omae mo
    nakama da yo!!

    もちろん お前も 仲間だよ!!
    Of course you're nakama too!!
    Of course you're in the group too!!

Partners in Crime

When have a band of pirates, thieves, or whatever organization, be it evil or good, so it can bean organization of heroes, too, why not, then basically everybody in that organization is your nakama.

And of course, it often happens that there's a traitor among our nakama!

仲間が裏切りを?まさか! transcription from the manga 鋼の錬金術師
Manga: Fullmetal Alchemist / Hagane no Renkinjutsushi 鋼の錬金術師
  • nakama ga uragiri wo?
    仲間が裏切りを?
    One of our guys betrayed [us]?
  • masaka!
    まさか!
    [That's unthinkable!]

"Party," Nakama in RPG Games

In RPG games, the word nakama normally refers to one's "party" instead. That is, the guys you do stuff with: kill monsters, loot dungeons, save the world, etc.

*「ネルソンさんを仲間にくわえるのね。わかったわ。 ネルソンが仲間にくわわった! なかまをよびだす なかまをあずける めいぼをみる やめる transcription of the game Dragon Quest III.
Game: Dragon Quest III, Doragon Kuesuto Surii ドラゴンクエストIII
  • *"Neruson-san wo nakama ni
    kuwaeru no ne. wakatta wa.

    *「ネルソンさんを 仲間
    くわえるのね。わかったわ。
    *"Add Nelson to your party, [right]? [I got it.]
  • neruson ga nakama ni kuwawatta!
    ネルソンが 仲間に くわわった!
    Nelson was added to the party!
  • For reference, the text in the menu:
  • nakama wo yobidasu
    なかまをよびだす
    Summon a party member.
    • yobidasu 呼び出す
      To call [someone] so they come out.
      To summon.
  • nakama wo azukeru
    なかまをあずける
    Leave a party member here.
    • azukeru 預ける
      To leave [something] in someone else's hands.
      To entrust.
  • meibo wo miru
    めいぼをみる
    See the register of names.
    • In the game, you can recruit new party members from this list.
  • yameru
    やめる
    Stop.
    • Leave. Exit. Close menu. Etc.
  • Title:

This usage also translates to isekai 異世界 anime which are heavily based on games.

Bird of Same Feather

The word nakama can also mean someone who is related to someone else somehow. This is extremely vaguely speaking, I know. In English, the idiom "birds of a feather" would fit this concept perfectly.

For example, in anime you often have this cold-blooded emotionless sadist character with a dark past in one faction, who is fighting another faction, which also has a cold-blooded emotionless sadist character with a dark past. These two characters, despite being enemies, could be joined as nakama by their extremely cliched settings.

おっ 機械鎧(オートメイル)仲間? transcription from manga 鋼の錬金術師
Manga: Fullmetal Alchemist / Hagane no Renkinjutsushi 鋼の錬金術師
  • Context: good guy with mechanical arm fights bad guy with mechanical arm.
  • o' おっ
    Oh!
  • ootomeiru nakama?
    機械鎧(オートメイル)仲間
    [You're] automail nakama?
    [You too have an] automail?
    • ootomeiru オートーメイル
      Automail.
    • ...is used as gikun 義訓 reading for...
    • kikai yoroi 機械鎧
      Mechnical armor.
    • Automail are the mechanical arms found in Fullmetal Alchemist.

In the example above, despite the good guy and the bad guy being enemies about to fight, they're also, in a sense, nakama, entangled by the fact both have mechanical arms.

In Animal Taxonomy

When talking about animals, nakama can refer to animals related to another animals according to their taxonomies. For example:
  • ari wa hachi no nakama アリはハチの仲間
    Ants are bees' nakama.

Ants and bees are members of the order "Hymenoptera," called hachi-moku ハチ目, literally "bee order," in Japanese.

Kanji of Nakama

The kanji of the word nakama 仲間 sort of shows its true meaning. The naka 仲 part means "relationship" while the ma ma 間 part means "span," in the sense of "space." Together, nakama 仲間 is, literally, a "span of relationships."
  • naka ga ii ne 仲がいい
    The relationship is good. (literally.)
    [They are good friends, right?]

These can mean friends related to friends, or work colleagues related to other work colleagues, party members related to the quest of defeating the demon lord and freeing the world from its evil grasp, animals related to animals, etc.

4 comments:

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  1. Fun fact: in the shin megami tensei series, 仲間 appears written as 仲魔 most of the time, since you're actually recruiting demons (悪魔) to your party

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  2. How about "comrade" as a substitute. Comrade is understood in the military sense of fellow members of a unit, but it's also understood in the sense of "comrades in the revolution", which is close to the meaning of "people you commute with" etc: you recognize them as fellow members of a class/group.

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    Replies
    1. I'm not sure. Personally I'm more familiar with the word "nakama" being used in anime than with the word "comrade" being used in English. It could mean the same thing, but I wouldn't know.

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  3. I do actually think "comrade" or "companion" are decent translations. Comrade is good because it implies a sense of solidarity - "camaraderie." You just don't turn on your Nakama! I think the feeling of "nakama-ness" is actually a unique and special Japanese thing. It speaks to the special social bonds that exist in Japan, one of the world's most homogeneous societies.

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