original string

The above image is screengrabbed from the intro to ロンドン精霊探偵団, a story set in 19th century London. This is a line from the prologue. It reads:

きままに暮らす ひとりの少年がいた……

I have highlighted a string of kana in bold. How should this string be read?

I see the volitional form of 始める followed by としていた, meaning "was about to begin", but I can't tell if なかで is particles, words, conjugation, or some combination thereof. What does なかで do to this sentence?

  • I'm pretty sure this なか is 中. Does that help?
    – Angelos
    Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 3:28
  • I had considered that, but I don't understand how it applies. "始めようとしていた中で" sure gets across the idea of "was about to begin to sprout within" but then what does the で add? 'because of'? Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 6:18

1 Answer 1


The construction「〜なかで」

On the Japan Foundation website, you can download a PDF that outlines the differences between なか and うち. While that particular issue is not relevant to the question, the document explains all sorts of grammatical constructions using なか, including the「〜なかで」construction.

There are two distinct usages according to the document, which the author refers to as type A and type B respectively.

Type A

The first usage described in the document is that of type A. Here, the construction「〜なかで」can describe something such as an action, a state, an event, etc. within a general or broad setting that can give rise to that thing. The author refers to this broad setting as the frame. I'll try to illustrate what this means by clarifying the examples given in the document:


Throughout his book, the Shōbōgenzō, Dōgen provides detailed explanations about the concept of enlightenment in zen buddhism.

  • Frame: The collection of works written by the Japanese zen buddhist monk Dōgen
  • Within that frame: detailed explanations about enlightenment in zen buddhism


However, such high growth of the economy has brought about various problems within the Japanese society.

  • Frame: the Japanese society
  • Within that frame: various societal problems


The Sonnō jōi movement was established around the south-western clan domains under the Shogunate's rule.

  • Frame: when the Shogunate was active
  • Within that frame: a movement favouring the emperor and opposing the Shogunate was established

As you can see, the frame can be something well-defined (inside a book) or it can be a bit more abstract and vague (within society, under the administration).

Type B

While type A uses「〜なかで」to relate a certain frame or setting to events or actions that could occur within that frame, type B uses「〜なかで」more specifically to represent one or more options out of a range or a set of options. You're most likely more familiar with type B than type A, but I'll clarify with some more examples.


Nevertheless, France has the second lowest marriage rate in Europe after Sweden.

Range of choices: European countries


At the time, of all the children only one boy was to become head of the family.

Range of choices: the children of a certain family

To answer your question

There's another piece in the prologue preceding your screenshot. Putting both together looks like this









きままに暮{く}らす 一人{ひとり}の少年{しょうねん}がいた・・・・・・

Since there is no clear set or range of choices, this usage of「〜なかで」is of type A. The thing that's happening is the last sentence:

There was a young boy who lived a carefree life.

Whereas the frame is contained in the previous sentence:

While a glimmer of hope for a better future budded among the citizens of London

Where the whole glimmer of hope stuff is contained in「その予感」I believe.

I'm not 100% confident in my translations quite yet, but I hope this helps!

  • Great explanation! I really like the understanding of 中で as a frame. I knew that it could refer to time as well, but this really puts things into perspective :)
    – Shurim
    Commented Nov 25, 2020 at 18:33

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