Okage Sama De: I am here because of those around me
I don’t live independently. Every success and accomplishment I have in my life has been possible because of someone else and their support. “We all are interdependent, so make sure to take care of those around you.” I have been taught this by my parents as I was growing up, and I teach this to my child constantly. I am who I am because of those around me and their support.
The Japanese phrase Okage Sama De おかげ様で captures this teaching well. Its literal translation is “I am here because of the shade you provided me.” Kage means shadow or shade. The shade originally referred to the protection offered by Buddha, but in the modern days this phrase is not tied to a religious meaning. Instead, the shade in this phrase symbolizes the support you receive from others. Okage Sama De is a way to express gratitude. I hear it most often as a response from one who receives praise for what they’ve accomplished.
Carved Shina wood plates for the Mokuhanga image "In the origami garden."
When a Japanese individual hears a compliment about their work, they may respond by saying that it was not their doing but rather because of others around them. From the Western/Eurocentric perspective which values independence and individualistic accomplishments, this act may be perceived as a sign that the Japanese person lacks self-confidence. It may look as if the person is hesitant to give themselves credits. We need to understand the culture behind this act in order to avoid pathologizing my people.
Japanese culture is collectivistic. We build happiness within ourselves through seeing others’ happiness. In Japanese culture, the sense of self (your perception of who you are) is cultivated as a group, not as an individual. From this perspective, my accomplishment is your accomplishment that I must express gratitude for. Out of a caring heart, someone creates a shade for me as a form of protection—and gratitude emerges as I acknowledge their kind and caring gesture. I was reminded of the concept when I attended the Remembrance Day event on 2/19/23 at the Smithsonian American History Museum in Washington DC. One of the speakers, Erika Moritsugu, mentioned Okage Sama De as a Japanese philosophy and a way to pay respect to those who advocated for justice regarding the Japanese internment camp.
Much of my motherhood experience can be summarized by this statement, “I am here because of the shade you provided me.” The word you refers to many people who provided support as I tried to figure out ways of bicultural parenting. When I became a mother, I didn’t have a Japanese community I belonged to. My family could not help me. But my husband was with me as my main support, and we received help from his parents who lived out of state. We also had friends who provided help. Eventually I found Japanese friends who exchanged information and provided supportive listening to each other about our bicultural parenting. These people created the shade for me.
In the origami garden,
10 x 13 inches, Mokuhanga print, 2023.
The Mokuhanga image is of my child and me when we started living together. In this image, mother and baby seem alone, but they are not. My child and I are surrounded by the gift of my ancestors’ knowledge—this garden (the community/environment) is made of origami papers. My ancestors, Japanese people, created origami as a form of art. They looked at plain pieces of paper and crafted whatever they wanted to see. All they needed to make this happen was their creativity. When we want to build something, our creativity becomes the tool to imagine what we want to envision.
As I looked at my child when she was a baby, I imagined what community and environment I wanted to create for her. Together with other people’s support, the garden has been built—and the garden continues to evolve as my child becomes older and develops as her own person. This Mokuhanga image captures how my child and I have been supported by Japanese cultural concepts crafted by my ancestors as well as by people around me throughout the motherhood journey.
There is a group of supporting hands underneath the garden in the image. Even if one is proud of the beautiful garden their hands have created, they should never forget that the garden exists because of these supportive hands. I believe this is true for parenting, but also true for artmaking, for career building, for social justice movements, and for life in general. We are who we are because of those around us.
Thank you for being a witness of my creative work during my Artist Residency In Motherhood. There are only two months left in this residency. More images are coming to my mind, getting ready to be executed on paper next month, including this one about legacy burdens and legacy gifts:
Let’s stay in touch,