Ishida Osamu is a freelance writer based in Miyagi Prefecture, part of the disaster-stricken Tōhoku region. He writes of his resolve to engage in reconstruction by harnessing the virtues of the Tōhoku people that he rediscovered following the earthquake.
Okage sama de: An Oft-Used Greeting Among Tōhokuites
Okage sama de is a phrase that people of the Tōhoku region often use in lieu of a greeting. Literally meaning “thanks to (you),” it is a phrase to express one’s gratitude for others and the world around them. Behind it is the sentiment and belief that one is here today not by one’s resources alone but because of someone’s support, because of some sort of helping force.
Perhaps the expression should rightly be used in response to a specific act of support or assistance that was personally received. But here in the Tōhoku region, we use it at the beginning of a conversation as a sort of introductory remark to replace a greeting. Here are some examples:
How are you? “Oh, okage sama de. . . .”
I heard you’re out of the hospital. “Uh huh, okage sama de. . . .”
Did you fare the earthquake OK? “Yes, okage sama de. . . .”
My wife, being from the Kansai region, tells me that she has never used the phrase because she finds it to be vague and does not know how to use it. “It almost sounds sarcastic,” she says. I suppose she has a point; it may actually come across as a sarcastic remark if the person to whom one is saying it has done nothing particularly worth thanking.
Following the recent earthquake, the expression okage sama de has been frequently heard in the affected areas. But there is no underlying sarcasm at all. It is an everyday phrase used to express gratitude for the fact that one’s life has been spared and for the support and encouragement coming in from across Japan.
The Tōhoku Spirit as Depicted by Miyazawa Kenji
As the poet Miyazawa Kenji depicted in his works, the Tōhoku people have had to confront the harshness of nature, suffering repeatedly from cold-weather crop damage and famine. The region has been viewed as the quintessential backcountry, and is often left out of government initiatives. Tōhokuites learned that mutual cooperation and aid are indispensable.
This history may be what shaped the Tōhoku spirit: the generosity of believing in the benevolence of others (which is viewed by some as “gullibility”) and of respecting one’s neighbors. That is why I feel that the expression okage sama de is so characteristic of Tōhokuites.
Many messages of encouragement from across Japan—and from around the world—have reached the Tōhoku region.
Public attention now may be focused more on the nuclear accident, but the fight to reconstruct the Tōhoku region is just beginning. I sincerely hope that people will support this reconstruction effort in whatever way they can. (Written on March 30, 2011.)
In This Series
“It may not be much, but it’s a lot more than nothing” (July 11)
The Hardiness Stereotype (May 18)
Care Packages from “Disaster Veterans” (April 10)
“Okage sama” (March 30)
Freelance writer. Born in Iwate Prefecture in 1960. Graduated from the Osaka University of Arts with a degree in art planning. Turned freelance in 1993, after having worked at editorial-production and newspaper companies. Contributes to local information magazines, government publications, and anniversary publications by schools and corporations.