Leech Deepdive #1: An adventure with 親分

親分(おやぶん) made me cry again today in reviews. This is my reading note on the vocab card.

Screenshot 2023-12-31 192758

That’s me from 4 different points in time complaining about the fact that 親 uses the kun’yomi here. So I decided to do a bit of digging on the word to sooth my soul. Here’s a small info dump of the stuff I found maybe it’ll help someone else

  1. WK’s main translation for this word is “boss”, that translation works and it’s the most common way you’d see this word translated but it’s kinda misleading. If you worked at a 7/11 or something, you would get in big trouble if you called your boss your 親分. An 親分 is a crime boss, like a yakuza boss. The idea of a mafia “godfather” is a good comparison, if (おや) is your parent or father specifically then the 親分(おやぶん) is sorta the father figure of the organization. In fact, wiktionary translates 親分 as a “father figure” or a “foster parent” although I assume it would still sound weird if you used this word like that without the crime element.

I thought maybe they would translate the title to 親分 but this makes more sense. If they use the word in the movie let me know, I’m not gonna track down a dubbed version.

  1. The use of the kun’yomi here is not as arbitrary and random as it might look like. In fact there are a number of related “familial” terms that have the same kun’yomi-on’yomi structure. The opposite of the 親分 is the 子分(こぶん) “henchman”. Which is a pretty good translation but a more literal reading of it would be like “surrogate child”. 子分 are the underlings who the 親分 is supposed to be “taking care of”. There’s also 兄貴分(あにきぶん) and 弟分(おとうとぶん), “older sworn brother” and “younger sworn brother” respectively. In this case you can think of the on’yomi (ぶん) as being a suffix meaning “like a” or “akin to” and it’s just attaching directly to the words for different family members.

  2. All of these words aren’t super common. Unless your reading a lot of fiction involving crime or the yakuza, it’s not gonna come up much. 親分 is in the top 14000 words on jpdb on youtube it comes within the top 18000 words.
    It is used a lot in One Piece though! In Nami’s first episode (episode 5), She tries to trick Buggy the Clown by telling everyone that Luffy is her 親分 and he’s been doing a bad job of it. It’s a good episode to watch if you want some reinforcement from context. 親分 is one of the first words spoken in the episode. (EDIT: Not Nami’s first episode. But it is the first time she and Luffy meet)

I had trouble finding a version of this episode with japanese subtitles. Netflix is annoying and only lets you see native subtitles if you live in japan. But if you have a VPN on hand this is a pretty good use for it.

Here’s an example from Gurren Lagann (also episode 5 coincidently at 8:46).

“I guess you’re the boss around here”

In this example, it’s not supposed to be taken literally that this dude is a yakuza boss, I guess you could read it as “head honcho” or something like that. The character talking, Kamina, is extremely rude to basically everyone and also really distrustful of this place they’ve ended up in. So in this case I think it’s supposed to come across as more cocky and gangster sounding than anything.

I kind of wish wanikani’s definition was more precise. The alternate definitions are “Kingpin”, “Chief”, and “Head” which are a little more clear but not everyone memorizes those, and the meaning mnemonic doesn’t clear this up at all. It’s definitely easy as is to think it means the boss at your job. Also I’m not sure I’m really happy with it being at level 12. It reinforces the kun’yomi but there’s already a lot of vocab that does that. I think it just causes confusion since it looks like it should be a normal jukugo word.

Anyway, hope someone found this helpful. I really like putting things like this together it helps my learning but I can’t always find the time. 謹賀新年!


l’ve come across 親方 おやかた to refer to one’s boss (Foreman on a building site) if that helps build a connection for that kun reading!

All those crime people related 分 words are