Practicing the act of ‘ai’ in the art of challenging ourselves

An important lesson from an unassuming place

Kaki Okumura
4 min readJan 25


Illustrations by Kaki Okumura

I recently made the funny discovery that my dad likes to watch shiba-inu (a Japanese dog breed) Youtube videos before he goes to sleep. As he was showing me some, we came across a particularly cute video of a dog and his elderly owner.

In the video, the dog and owner were on a typical walk around their neighborhood. But what made the video so memorable is that the dog would trot a few paces in front of his owner, turn around and wait, let the owner catch up, and then trot ahead again.

And for the entire walk, the dog repeated this– walk, turn around, wait, and continue.

It’s such a simple gesture, to turn around and wait, but the simple act says so much about how the dog feels about his owner: respect, care, loyalty, and maybe even a little bit of concern. But even that worry ultimately comes down to love.

It’s not just dogs that do this. Even the busiest parents will intermittently pause what they’re doing to turn around and make sure their toddler is okay. Older siblings will look behind them to see if their sister or brother is keeping up.

We know our loved ones to do this for us– turn around and check if we’re okay– no matter how old we become.

It’s a universal act of love.

The kanji for ‘love’

You may be surprised to learn that the Japanese kanji character for love is actually derived from this act.

“Ai”「愛」, the Japanese word for love, is composed of the characters “ki”「旡」, “shin”「心」”chi”「夂」. “Ki”「旡」is a character that illustrates a person looking back, “shin”「心」means heart, and “chi”「夂」represents a person’s legs.

Therefore, the kanji “ai”「愛」is said to be the feeling one has when they turn around to look at someone they care about.



Kaki Okumura

Born in Dallas, raised in New York and Tokyo. I care about helping others learn to live a better, healthier life. My site: 🌱