Meaning of Nakama - Comrade in Japanese

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Have you ever heard the expression Nakama? Maybe you think it means partners, but do you really understand the true meaning? In this article, we're going to take an in-depth look at the meaning of Nakama.

Have you ever heard this term being used in any anime or manga like One Piece?

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What does Nakama mean?

In Japanese, the word nakama [仲間] means “someone who is in the same group as you” or it can refer to the group itself, be it friends, colleagues, club partners, and others.

Nakama [仲間] is a Japanese word composed of the characters [仲] meaning “relationship”, and [間] meaning “space or time”. That is, this word refers to some kind of relationship that you have with someone at some time or interval.

Usually refers to a member of the same category, company; colleague; associate; comrade; partner and circle of friends.

Unlike friendship, it can refer more to a kind of temporary partnership or co-worker, or team. Below is a list of meanings of Nakama:

  • Partner;
  • Comrade;
  • Co-worker;
  • Group;
  • Partner;
  • Associate;
  • Circle of friends;
  • Colleague.

This term can be used to refer to a fellow member, as in the case of One Piece where Luffy refers to the crew as Nakama. It can refer to people in a group, company, circle of friends, set or gang.

In roleplaying games, the word nakama usually refers to a “party” or group of people. Those groups you assemble either online or offline to battle together.

Meaning of Nakama - Comrade in Japanese

The Origin of the Word Nakama

In the Edo period, when commerce and industry developed dramatically, there were so many companies. It had paint specialists, nail specialists, herbal medicine seed specialists, paper professional and many others.

These traders came together to create an official syndicate called Kabunakama to protect their acquired rights and manage actions among the members.

The main objective was for merchants and industries to monopolize the production and sale of goods, preventing the price of goods from falling too much.

There were two organizations of privileged ties to merchants called Omenkabu and Wankabu who created and were allowed by the Bakufu to control and create the organizations.

Kabunakama's numbers were limited, causing the right to join to be transferred or sold as shares. There were systems of rules, donations and trades between the groups.

This group of associations gave the current meaning to Nakama which was formerly a simple word that indicated a business and organizational relationship.

Nakama - meaning of nakama - comrade in Japanese
The Kabunakama Merchants in the Edo Period

Difference between Nakama and Tomodachi

Some people ask the difference between Nakama and Tomodachi. Sometimes we see both being used with great feeling in anime, is there one superior to the other?

Tomodachi [友達] which means friend, refers to personal feelings of intimacy and affection, doesn't necessarily need to involve some activity or have the same ideas as Nakama.

In the case of Nakama [仲間], people who share the same goal or work together in a group or organization are not necessarily close friends, although they are most of the time.

Both words are independent, you can be friends with someone you've known for a short time, or you don't need to do something special with your friend to call them friend.

In the same way, you can be a partner or colleague of someone with whom you will never have enough intimacy to call them a friend. In short, the word Nakama should be used:

  1. When there is a relationship of doing things together;
  2. When they are people of the same occupation, status, etc;
  3. When they do things of the same type or category;

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Different Ways to Use Nakama

Nakama goes far beyond a noun, this word is often used together to create new expressions within the Japanese language. In online games you find nakamairi [仲間入り] when you want to join a group.

By joining the expression with some other verb, you might end up changing the meaning of Nakama a little bit to something like friend or partner.

Words like bad company can be written furyonakama [不良仲間] which can be seen in anime like Tokyo Revenger. It is worth mentioning that Nakama [中間] also refers to a city in Fukuoka.

Below are some usage examples:

  • [クラス仲間] "kurasunakama" - Classmates
  • [遊び仲間] "asobinakama" - Playmate(s)
  • [ゴルフ仲間] "gorufunakama" - golf friends
  • [仕事仲間] "shigotonakama" - Coworkers
  • [ヤクザ仲間] "yakuzanakama" - Clan Yakuza
  • [演劇仲間] "engékinakama" - Theater group
  • [医者仲間] "ishanakama" - Group of doctors
  • [監獄仲間]"Kangokunakama" - Prison friend
  • [旅行仲間] "ryokounakama" - Trip's partner

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