What do Japanese people say before and after eating?
Before they begin their meals, you’ll see them hold their hands together, close their eyes, bow slightly, and say something ending in “masu.”
What are they saying? What does it mean? How does one use itadakimasu appropriately?
Before the meal begins, it is customary to be thankful for the food (just like in most countries around the world).
Itadakimasu is about manners and respect
To show this respect, the word you’ll hear is “itadakimasu (頂きます).” It translates into “I’ll have it” or, in this context, “thank you for this food.”
Itadakimasu is a word rooted in Buddhism — how one expresses gratitude for the meal. Much like saying bon appétit, or grace. But it is deeper than that. In modern times it feels less religious and Japanese people use it more of a nod to tradition.
It’s not solely the food. It’s everything it took for the food to be grown, harvested, prepared, and everything in-between. It is a Japanese custom or a form of etiquette.
It’s customary for each person at the table to say it, not only one (as you may experience with other cultures, such as the head of the table saying grace). Essentially the whole household will say it together before the meal.
And don’t forget about “kanpai” before drinking. 🙂
While itadakimasu is spoken before the meal, there’s another word used after the meal.
In short, gochisousama means “a good meal.” A way of expressing that you are done eating, and you enjoyed the food. Thanking again for everything it took to create the meal.
The full translation of gochisousama is “thank you very much for the delicious meal.“
Note: You’ll also find this word used before leaving a restaurant, after paying the check.
Use them, without fear
Don’t think of these words as optional. Try to use them before and after every meal.
But don’t freak out if you can’t pronounce them correctly and stumble. The Japanese understand you’re not Japanese and are humble that you attempted the words.
RECOMMENDATION: Reserve Imafuku Michelin 1-Star Shabu-Shabu & Sukiyaki Restaurant
A fantastic place to practice your itadakimasu and gochisousama skills is Imafuku.
Imafuku is a Michelin starred restaurant in Tokyo offering shabu-shabu with high-quality wagyu beef as well as Sukiyaki with top sirloin.
- Savor the superior quality of wagyu beef, made in Japan
- Indulge in a sukiyaki sirloin or shabu-shabu hot pot
- Dine in an elegant and relaxed environment
Make reservations here (in English)
Pronouncing Itadakimasu and Gochisousama
I know what you’re thinking. “These words look impossible to pronounce!“
Yea, kind of.
- Itadakimasu = E-tah-dah-key-mah-ss
- Gochisousama = go-chee-so-sah-mah
Not too bad really. Practice a bit and you’ll be fine.
I’ve heard it’s rude to finish your plate in Japan. Is that true?
Finishing your plate is a sign you enjoyed the meal. It’s not like other countries where more food will be brought to empty plates.
In fact, it’s polite to completely finish even every grain of rice. Don’t leave any stragglers!
So on the flip side, it is a little rude to leave food. But don’t worry, it’s not taboo.
If you’re so full you can’t eat anymore, then don’t. Leaving a little won’t offend the restaurant staff.
Now, if you’re at someone’s home, just try your best to finish. In most countries it’s best to eat mom’s cooking, isn’t it? 🙂
Is it rude to use a fork in Japan?
Obviously, chopsticks are the norm, but it isn’t unheard of for the Japanese to use forks and spoons too.
Don’t worry about it. Just ask.
If the shop has a fork available they’ll bring it to you.
Even in situations where it might be a bit strange for a Japanese person to use a fork, they know you’re not Japanese, and using a fork is likely easier for you.
Not rude at all.
Oh, one more thing about chopsticks — say “itadakimasu” before you pick up the chopsticks. Don’t hold them