March 19, 2013

Itadakimasu and Gochisou Sama Deshita/「いただきます」と「ごちそうさまでした」

In present Japan, it is customary to say Itadakimasu before having a meal and Gochisou sama deshita or Gochisou sama (less polite) after having a meal. The important thing to remember is that these phrases are considered forms of greeting in Japanese, so it's hard not to say them if you are with someone else when eating. Even if you are alone, you can or may want to say them to yourself.

There is surprisingly little reliable information as to how this nationwide custom got started. I found three sites that sound plausible, of which this one (Japanese only) is the most detailed.

I can never be sure, but I think it is safe to say the following:

The phrases "Itadakimasu" and "Gochisou sama deshita", as well as similar expressions, existed before the Taisho period (1912-1926), but saying them before and after a meal was not a nationwide custom.  The custom spread gradually in the Taisho period to the early Showa period (1926 and after), when the hakozen*1 was replaced by the chabudai*2, and became nationwide due to school education after World War II.

*1 A hakozen (lit. box table) is a wooden box used to contain a rice bowl, a soup bowl, a pair of chopsticks, plates, etc. When turned upside down, the lid served as a tray. It was used from the Edo period to the Meiji period (1868-1912). Everyone had their own hakozen.
A photo of a hakozen can be found here.
Other photos
Results of a Google image search for hakozen

*2 A chabudai is a low table invented around the 20s of the Meiji period (1887). In contrast to the hakozen, everyone sat at the single chabudai. It became popular throughout the country in the late 1920s.  It was replaced by a dining table in and after 1960.
Results of a Google image search for chabudai

Note:  Whether to put your hands together before saying Itadakimasu (and Gochisou sama deshita)
Access the first site linked to, and scroll down until you see a map of Japan.
The black square indicates a place where the people responded they put their hands together.
The black-and-white square indicates a place where some people responded they do and others responded otherwise.
The white square indicates a place where the people responded they make a bow or do something else (put their hand on their laps?).
For example, at my children's elementary school, located in Niigata, students are taught to put their hands together before saying Itadakimasu and Gochisou sama deshita.

Edited to add:

Note 2: Suppose you are in a restaurant with someone else, and your order comes first and you want to start having it immediately, what should you say to your companion?  Say "Osakini itadakimasu".  Your companion will say things like, "Dozo, dozo".

Note 3:  Other phrases considered forms of greetings in Japanese include:

Ittekimasu (said before leaving home)
Itterasshai (said to someone leaving home)
Tadaima (said when returning home)
Okaeri nasai or Okaeri (less polite) (said to someone returning home)

When you enter a restaurant, the staff will say, "Irasshaimase".





*1 箱膳とは、蓋付きの木製の箱で、その中にお茶碗、お椀、箸、お皿などを入れました。蓋を逆さにして、お膳として使いました。江戸時代から明治時代(1868~1912年)に使われました。各自が自分の箱膳を持っていました。

*2 ちゃぶ台とは、明治20年代頃(1887年頃)発案された低いテーブルのことです。箱膳とは異なり、みんなが一つのちゃぶ台に向かって座りました。1920年代後半に全国的に使われるようになりました。1960年以降ダイニングテーブルへと変わりました。

注: いただきます(ごちそうさまでした)を言う前に手を合わせるかどうか。


注2: お店に誰かと一緒に行ったとして、自分の注文した料理が先に来て、それをすぐ食べ始めたい場合は、相手に何て言ったらいいでしょうか?「お先にいただきます」と言って下さい。相手は「どうぞ、どうぞ」などと答えるでしょう。

注3: 下記も、日本語では挨拶言葉と考えられいます。




Fräulein Trude said...

Interesting similarity. In Germany it was a custom since early medieval to start a meal with a small prayer and the ending sentence "Blessed meal" Gesegnete Mahlzeit - a wish for blessing from above. You can read this in old fairy tales too from brothers Grimm for example. I had to do this too in Kindergarten but not at home only with my grandparents (very religious people). One common minor prayer in rhymes was: "Dear god be our guest and bless what you gave us". What was left was first "Blessed meal", and then "meal" "Mahlzeit" without "blessed" as a mere and a little unpolite greeting around noon. Nowadays it is common and the correct polite sentence to say "Guten Appetit" directly related to the french Bon appetit - and you should direct this to your table neigbors and smile of course! For families with children there is a custom to lent each of your hands to the next persons sitting to you and say a small rhyme: Tweet, tweet, Tweet, we love each other so much, good appetite (the not religious approach...)

Sometimes you may hear something as "guten Hunger" (Hunger is the same as apetite and guten is good) or just "Guten..", which means "I wish you good appetite to enjoy your meal to the fullest" but in some kind of less polite speech (friends). And sometimes people have a bad upbringing and will not say anything at all and just dig in. And of course it is common and polite to thank and praise the person who prepared or brought the meal afterwards: Thank you, it was delicious (in german language there are much more words to say something like it is delicious)

Sissi said...

Hiroyuki, this is very interesting. For me the funniest thing is that it's impossible to translate (especially Itadakimasu).
Kiki, it is very interesting what you say about the "blessed meal" and "guten appetit". In France traditionally "bon appétit" is considered bad manners and nowadays some people still refuse to say it (even though you will probably hear it often because more and more people say it), so when I see "itadakimasu" translated as "bon appetit" in French subtitles, I cannot agree.

Hiroyuki said...

I added notes 2 and 3.

Kiki: That's very interesting to know, and as you say, interesting similarity! Thank you for your detailed description!

Sissi: I didn't know that "bon appetit" is considered bad manners (by some people).

Yangsze said...

What a fun post and how interesting to read about all the different countries! Sissi -- I also didn't know that "bon appetit" was bad manners!

The Chinese tradition is for children/younger people to invite all elders present to eat first e.g. "Father, please eat, Mother please eat etc." before they can start eating. I think this must be an old custom because I only see it in the overseas Chinese diaspora and not amongst mainland Chinese (who have lost a lot of traditions). For our family, as we are Christian, we say a small blessing before we eat.

I love the fact that everywhere, people are grateful for the food they eat! (though probably more so in the olden days!)

Hiroyuki said...

Yangsze: Thank you for your contribution to this post!

What a different approach! In days of old, every member of a family had to wait until the family head (kacho 家長) starts eating.

Yangsze said...

Yes, the elders always get to eat first :) Seniority is highly respected!

The other thing my parents taught us was to greet older people immediately. When guests come and leave, the children should stand at the doorway and call them "uncle" or "auntie" (even if they are not related). Not greeting your seniors is considered very rude and will earn you a scolding. I think it's the same in Japan and Korea!

Hiroyuki said...

Yangsze: Yes, Confucianism! But, it's dying out in Japan. In particular, the parent-and-child and teacher-and-student relationships are not what they were 50 years ago.

okasan said...

Thanks for the cultural lesson especially the history on the hakozen and chabudai. While staying in the monastery in Kouyasan 高野山、our meals were served on a chabudai ちゃぶ台。There were so much food that each of us had 2 chabudai. 面白いね。

Hiroyuki said...

okasan: Chabudai are still popular because they are suited for Japanese multi-purpose rooms, meaning that the same room serves as a living room, dining room, bed room, guest room, etc.

So much food on chabudai? You were lucky!