Itadakimasu and Gochisousama – What is the real meaning?

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Itadakimasu and Gochisousama Deshita are two Japanese expressions used during meals to thank food. What few know is its real meaning and history, so let's study these two Japanese words in depth.

Itadakimasu [頂きます] is an expression used before meals that literally means “to receive“. It is used to show gratitude for the food and involved. It is customary to lower the head and join the hands as in prayer.

Gochisousama Deshita [御馳走様でした] something like itadakimasu, but it is used after meals and can be literally translated as thank you for the meal. You don't necessarily need to say these two expressions out loud.

The Story of Itadakimasu

The kanji used in the word Itadakimasu [頂] also means “top”, and the verb itadaku [頂く] originally means "to put something above the head". A long time ago, people placed food above their heads before eating, especially when the food was provided by a person of higher social status. This gesture gave rise to the expression itadakimasu [いただきます].

Itadakimasu and gochisousama- what is the true meaning?

As Japan has a Buddhist cultural background, it is not surprising that Itadakimasu it is also related to the Buddhist principle of respecting all living beings.

before meals, Itadakimasu it is said as a thank you to the plants and animals that have given their lives for the meal you are about to consume. He also thanks everyone involved, ranging from the hunter, the farmer, the rice, God and whoever prepared the meal.

The act of joining hands and lowering the head is part of this Buddhist principle. The word Itadakimasu part of the Japanese daily life. No matter the religion, it should be used just like a "thanks” to say thanks for the meals.

Itadakimasu and gochisousama- what is the true meaning?

There is a Japanese saying that emphasizes being grateful for all the elements that make up food:

  • お 米一粒一粒には、七人の神様が住んでいる。
  • O komehitotsubu hitotsubu ni wa, nana-ri no kamisama ga sunde iru;
  • 7 Gods live in a single grain of rice;

This saying also emphasizes another custom of never leaving food on the plate. This is also related to the Buddhist philosophy that all life is sacred. Even eating with chopsticks has its rules.

Do all Japanese speak itadakimasu?

Some religions that do not want to have anything to do with Buddhism, simply avoid putting their hands together and lowering their heads, but speak itadakimasu and gochisousama deshita usually. But not all Japanese say itadakimasu currently.

Surveys reveal that around 64% of Japanese people put their hand up and speak itadakimasu, while 28% just talk, 1% just join hands and 6% do absolutely nothing.

The custom of joining hands and lowering the head came from the Buddhist sect Jodo-Shinshu, which is more concentrated in Hiroshima and in the south of the country. About 90% of the people of this region have the custom of joining hands.

In Hokkaido and northern Japan, this custom is much smaller. It may happen that some Japanese people speak with a very low voice the words itadakimasu and gochisousama deshita, as if they were ashamed.

Itadakimasu and gochisousama – what is the real meaning?

Meanings and uses of Itadakimasu

Everyone knows that words take on different meanings unrelated to their origin. Likewise, Itadakimasu can be understood with several other meanings.

When it is related to food kinds, can be understood as a: “Let's eat”, “Bon appétit”, or “Thanks for the food.” Some even compare this word to the Christian tradition of saying benevolence before a meal.

Itadakimasu is used not only when eating a meal, but you can say it when accepting something or a gift from someone. Remember that the literal translation of the word means “I humbly receive“, so that total makes sense.

For example, if someone gives you a gift, or if you get something as a free sample from a store, you can use itadakimasu. Pretty much any time you get something, you can use itadakimasu.

To get a better idea of when it is appropriate to use itadakimasu outside of food-related situations, you can watch some drama or anime and pay attention when itadakimasu is said.

It really isn't every time you speak itadakimasu, there are many ways to say thank you in Japanese, only with time will you learn the right way for every occasion.

Itadakimasu and gochisousama- what is the true meaning?

What does Gochisousama Deshita mean?

While Itadakimasu thanks everyone involved in the food production, the Gochisousama Deshita usually emphasizes mainly the cooks or who serves the food. It could literally be: “Thanks for the delicious meal!”.

Let's see the literal translation of the word Gochisousama Deshita [御馳走様でした]:

  • Go – 御– A respectful prefix, similar to the “お” in [お金], [お元気], etc;
  • Chisou – 馳走– Means delight, banquet, party, pleasant meal, good food and others;
  • Sama – 様– A very respectful and honorable suffix used with clients and even kings and gods;
  • Deshita – でした– Conjugation in the past, as if it were a “ was ”.

formerly the word chiso [馳走] meant to run or make every effort. In the old days people rode horses and ran to collect food for the guests.

Itadakimasu and gochisousama- what is the true meaning?

Even though it didn't involve horses, people also had to run to prepare the guests' meals. Soon this word began to include the meaning of inviting people to eat.

At the end of Edo period (1603-1868) the words GO [御] and SAMA [様] were added to show appreciation, so soon the Japanese started using gochisousama after meals.

There is a lot of work and effort by many people behind every meal we eat. Saying this in a restaurant strongly emphasizes that you liked the food.

Gochisama [御馳走様] does not have to be used literally after a meal. You can use it to say thanks for a meal the other day, some food you got and the like.

In a restaurant, the gochisousama should be directed to the cook and not the people at the table. So in certain restaurants you can say thank you at the cashier when you pay for your meal.

You can also add totemo oishikatta [とても美味しかった] was very good, after the sentence of gochisousama deshita. It can be a little informal, but it indicates that you really enjoyed the meal.

This is further proof that Japanese culture and its language is full of politeness and respect. And do you think of these words? Do you make use of them? If you liked the article, share it and leave your comments!

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