What’s the meaning of itadakimasu? In this article, you’ll learn all about it.
If you’ve been watching Japanese television, hanging out with Japanese friends, or just starting to learn Japanese, you’ve probably heard people say the phrase “itadakimasu!” before a meal. Let’s take a look at what it means, why people say it, and whether or not you should be saying it too.
While it’s often translated before meals as something similar to the French, “Bon appétit!”, itadakimasu is actually the polite and humble form of the verb “to receive”, so in a literal sense, it means, “I humbly receive”.
From our resident Japanese expert:
“Itadakimasu is an expression that even small children in Japan know to use when they begin a meal. The expression is a humble word, meaning ‘to receive’. I think it’s nice that the expression is so well and widely used, even by children. Even if they don’t even know what humble means, they are already using the word, and showing their appreciation for food.”
From an emotional perspective, it’s sort of like a secular version of saying grace. Itadakimasu is a way of saying thank you and giving respect and appreciation to everyone involved in the preparation of your meal – from the cook who prepared it, to the farmer who grew the produce, to the actual pig, wheat and mushrooms.
Itadakimasu is taught in schools as well as at home, and just about all Japanese people say it before a meal. One survey suggested that only about 7 per cent of all Japanese don’t do anything (say itadakimasu and/or put their hands together) before a meal.
So, should you say it?
If you’re eating in Japan or with Japanese people, absolutely.
It’s even more commonly used than “Bon appétit!” or similar phrases, and goes deeper than simple politeness. Rather, it’s a humble, appreciative thing to say before every meal – a small thank you to the universe – and if other people are saying it, you should definitely follow suit.
Want to learn more about itadakimasu and find out about its partner phrase, gochisousama deshita? Scroll on.
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Itadakimasu comes from the humble verb, itadaku:
頂く(to receive, to get, to accept, to take)
In kanji, itadakimasu is typically written:
Or, in hiragana:
For those who haven’t learned about the Japanese alphabets yet:
い た だ き ま す
i (ee) ta da ki ma su
So the pronunciation is: ‘ee-tah-dah-kee-mas’. The ‘u’ on the end is essentially silent.
It’s really only in the last 75 to 100 years that itadakimasu has become so popular, but the word itadaku is old – really old.
Itadaku originally meant “to raise [something] above your head,” but took on a meaning of thankfully receiving something with the spread of Buddhism in the Asuka period (which began in 538 C.E.). At that time, gifts that were of high importance or items humbly received would be lifted to or above the head – and the verb took on a new meaning.
In the 1800s, itadakimasu as a phrase for mealtime emerged thanks to, of all things, an etiquette guide. The idea was embraced by monks of the Jōdo-shinshū sect of Buddhism and spread regionally from there.
However, it didn’t reach the prevalence we see in Japan today until the mid-twentieth century, when it became part of school mealtime routines implemented by the national education system of the Shōwa era.
And now here we are.
Follow cues from the people around you to figure out how casual or polite you should be, but we always recommend erring on the side of more polite. Here’s what that looks like:
Most polite (take your time):
Normal (can move a little faster):
Casual (just quickly):
Ok, now we’ve covered itadakimasu, but what do you say after itadakimasu?
In Japanese, there’s another phrase that’s used at the end of a meal. You guessed it – gochisousama deshita.
Gochisousama deshita (or the more casual gochisousama) is usually translated as “thank you for the meal”, or “thank you for the feast”. However, like itadakimasu, it means a bit more. It’s really a way of honouring all the hard work that went into your meal – again, from the people who prepared it, going back through everything it took to bring the meal to your plate.
And, like itadakimasu, you should absolutely say it!
In situations with an open kitchen, you can say it (casually) to the chefs as you exit, or you can say it when approaching the cashier or paying your bill with the server. Not so hard, right? And, of course, at someone’s home, it shouldn’t be hard to find a moment to say it.
It’ll be appreciated – and, in fact, not saying it can come off a little rude (though, of course, there’s some leeway for foreigners).
With itadakimasu as the beginning of a meal and gochisousama deshita at the end, you’ll be well on your way to having good Japanese table manners!
Worth noting: All that said, there is one time you shouldn’t say gochisousama. If you’re dining out with another person, saying it to them directly implies that you’re expecting them to pay for the meal. Why else would you be thanking them for such a delicious feast? So tread carefully – and maybe make eye contact with the restaurant staff when you say it!
Yes, absolutely! You can say it at restaurants, at other people’s homes, and at your own home – anywhere a meal has been cooked.
Just the once at the beginning of the meal! And then you end your meal with gochisousama deshita.
You can! Many people don’t, but some do – it’s respectful to the workers, if you’re at a restaurant. Besides, why not take the time to recognise all the hard work that went into the meal in front of you, at home or out on the town? Nothing wrong with that.
Thought you knew everything, huh? Well, there’s one last thing. So, remember how itadakimasu, literally translated, just means “I humbly receive”? It can actually be used for other things, as well as food!
You can use itadakimasu to respond to just about any offering of a physical object. For example, if someone were to say, “Do you want this dog? This tomato? This old pair of socks?” To politely accept, you could use itadakimasu as the verb in your answer.
It’s not typically used to accept non-object offers, like high fives, gossip, or advice – but you can use it to request things. But that’s getting a little into the weeds. We’ll save that for a later lesson.
And now you know all about itadakimasu.
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