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...If you're a casual One Piece fan, or a big anime fan who doesn't watch One Piece, you might have heard the word Nakama being thrown a lot in One Piece fandom. What does that word mean?
(TL;DR: Nakama/仲間 means friend/comrade/companion.)
I say this frequently in anime communities so I decided to turn it into a short post on my ReadCash & Hive blogs.
The word Nakama means "friend" or "people from the same group." It's a common word in Japanese language. The translation differs depending on the situation, (as explained by this Japanese teacher,) but the general meaning is always the same.
In One Piece's case, it can be translated to "Crewmate(s.)"
If it's a common word, and has an obvious translation why Nakama is left untranslated in One Piece?
Well... It isn't.
The official translations always use Friend/Crewmate when Nakama comes up in One Piece's anime and manga. Look up all the episodes on Crunchyroll, or the Manga chapters at Manga Plus to realize it.
Leaving Nakama untranslated is not professional. Those who do so, know this. It's usually used as a translation quirk, or (a pandering to) the hardcore groups of the fandom...
Then why the fandom uses "Nakama" instead of "Friend?"
Not a lot of us do, but when we do it, it's because we don't think "friend" is enough!
The reasoning doesn't make logical sense, but many of us who use the word Nakama in One Piece related conversations, know the whole story behind the word, and it doesn't feel right to use a common English word "friend" to convey the meaning we feel.
There's a special bond between the Strawhat Pirates, that many of the fans feel they became part of. There's also a sense of belonging and understanding when you say the word to someone online, and he understands exactly how you feel when you said it. (It's the same theory behind Inside Jokes.) It's something you have to experience to understand, but if you made a new friend this way, it's a treasure!
This led to a problem, however. Many anime fans started to think Nakama is a special word with no English equivalent!
Because of the fandom speak people began to misunderstand the actual meaning of the word. It doesn't help that One Piece fans use it outside the fandom in ways that are easy to misunderstand. Some anime fans even hear the word in other anime and miss it, or think they anime they're watching is copying One Piece, while in fact Nakama is a very common word in Japanese.
It became a mess... A mess that I don't mind having.
Sure, we have to educate people whenever they misuse or understand the word. Sure, articles like this one should be written to help. Sure, it creates many misunderstandings, but in the end. Is it so bad?
In my opinion though: The incorrect usage of the word Nakama does a great job in creating conversations that led to friendships between people who would never know each other otherwise...