The literal meaning of itadakimasu is to receive something. Before picking up their chopsticks and digging into a meal, Japanese people usually say “itadakimasu.” Itadakimasu expresses reverence for the life of the food ingredients and gratitude to the people involved in cooking the meal.
When watching anime or having a meal with Japanese friends, you may hear “itadakimasu.” This article aims to introduce you to the fundamentals of itadakimasu — What it means, What occasion to say it, and How to perform it. Whether you wish to learn Japanese or just understand this phrase, you can get something from this article. Are you ready? Let’s get started!
Quick facts on itadakimasu
First of all, you need to understand that there is no exact counterpart for itadakimasu in English. Because Japanese people say “itadakimasu” before picking up chopsticks to eat, some articles may tell you that itadakimasu equals “Bon appétit.” However, this is actually incorrect.
Then, “saying grace” is a religious ritual prevalent in Christian homes. Christians express their gratitude to God for the food they are about to eat by gestures and reciting a benediction. However, it is not national. For example, the UK tends to be thought of as a Christian state, but some atheist families there do not perform the ritual.
Meanwhile, itadakimasu is national and much less religious. We could say that it is one of the national symbols of the Japanese people. In Japan, no matter where you are from, what you do for a living, or how old you are, everyone says itadakimasu before their meal.
According to some authoritative Japanese scholars, in modern Japan, itadakimasu expresses reverence for the life of the food ingredients (meat, vegetables, etc.) and gratitude to the people involved in the food production (farmers) and meal cooking (families).
itadakimasu vs itadaku
itadakimasu (いただきます) comes from the verb, itadaku (いただく)
いただく (頂く) has two independent meanings different from this expression related to food etiquette 👇
- The humble form for もらう (morau), meaning (humbly) to take. When you receive physical things from someone with higher status or deserving of your respect, you should use the polite conjugation of 頂く (itadaku) — 頂きます (itadakimasu) instead of もらいます (moraimasu).
（My teacher gave me a dictionary as a gift for enrolment.）
- The humble form for 食べる (taberu) and 飲む (nomu), meaning (humbly) to eat or drink. The situation is similar to the one above, and you should use its conjugation when talking to someone of a high position.
(Have another drink!)
(I can’t drink anymore.)
How to use itadakimasu
As we all know, the pronunciation of Japanese is relatively easy. So, don’t worry, itadakimasu is not tongue-twisted. Even if you make a mistake, it doesn’t matter. Japanese people have a very high tolerance for non-native speakers’ speaking errors!
The pronunciation of it is similar to “ee-tah-dah-kee-mah-su”
Also, you can practice with the recording below.
Now that you’ve learned how to pronounce it, let’s try to perform it. Again, it’s not so complicated. You only need to remember the following four steps to grasp this Japanese etiquette quickly:
- Clasp your hands together
- Say itadakimasu
- Bow slightly (omitted depending on who you are eating with)
- Enjoy your food
FAQs about itadakimasu answered
Do Japanese people say itadakimasu when eating alone?
A quick glance at discussions on forums or social platforms would suggest that whether Japanese people say itadamimasu when they are alone depends on the person. Some Japanese people don’t say it when eating alone or with friends but do when dining with elders or superiors. In contrast, some Japanese say it even when they are alone. Therefore, this is generally just a personal preference.
Is it rude not to say itadakimasu?
Not at all. It’s perfectly acceptable not to follow this etiquette if you don’t know it very well or are concerned that you won’t do it correctly. After learning it through spending time with your Japanese friends, you can start to use itadakimasu to show your great regard for Japanese culture.
Do you need to respond to itadakimasu?
Let’s suppose you are the host and have prepared a dinner for a Japanese guest. You can respond to the guest’s “itadakimasu” by saying 👇
いっぱい食べてね ー ippaitabetene
After reading the above introduction, I should hope you feel a little more comfortable with itadakimasu. It is such an essential phrase for Japanese people that they even set November 11 every year as itadakimasu Day. The purpose of the day is to teach children about the preciousness of food. Furthermore, people observing the holiday try to make children aware of how tough it is to obtain food by engaging them in various activities such as cultivating, gathering, and cooking.
This project believes that the phrase “Itadakimasu” contains five forms of gratitude and allows us to reflect on them 👇
For nature: We are grateful for the earth, clean water, and sunshine that nurture our crops.
For life: We are grateful for the life of vegetables, meat, fish, etc, which are equally as precious as our life.
For labor: We are grateful for the people who are involved in cooking delicious meals for us.
For wisdom: We are grateful for the recipes, knowledge, and love that have been spread in communities and families.
For partners: We are grateful for those close to us and who share the table with us.
What does Gochisosama desu mean?
Gochisousama deshita (ご馳走様でした) is like the twin sibling of itadakimasu. After a meal, Japanese people say “Gochisousama deshita” to thank the people who served them that delicious meal. But, what is the literal meaning of the expression?
The phrase paints a picture of a host riding on a horse and rushing around to gather food ingredients to feed his guests. The two Kanji “馳走” is an archaic phrasing and it literally mean “to run.”
Long, long ago, Japanese people relied on hunting and fishing to obtain raw food materials and sometimes had to travel far away for their supplies. At the same time, horses were the primary means of transportation. Therefore, you can see that the Chinese character for “馬 (uma)” is also reflected in the Chinese character for “馳 (chi).”
In modern society, “Gochisosama deshita” can be used both when others cook a meal for you or when someone invites you to eat at a restaurant.
Satou: konban, issho ni tairyouri wo tabemashou ka? boku no ogori desu!
Suzuki: ee, hontou?! arigatou.
Suzuki: oishikatta desu! gochisousama deshita!
Sato: Shall we have Thai food together for dinner? It’s on me!
Suzuki: WOW, Thank you!
Suzuki: It was delicious! Thank you for treating me!
If you were to ask a Japanese speaker today what “Gochisou (ご馳走)” means, they would tell you that it represents a good meal or an upscale restaurant. As you might have guessed, “Gochisou” can be used as a noun on its own.
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