Japanese Table Manners, What Is It Like?
Most Japanese anime or drama lovers are familiar with certain phrases. “Itadakimasu!” “Gochisousama-deshita!” – we see characters say these every time they start eating. We would imagine the phrases mean “Bon appétit” and “Thank you for the meal” – as they could be interpreted as such – the etiquette of these Japanese phrases is actually more humanitarian than just a good wish. They express deep appreciation to everyone and everything involved – most of all, to our Mother Earth.
Itadakimasu! – For Everything That Tops Your Plate
Literally meaning “I will humbly accept it,” this phrase is meant for those involved with making the meal happen, i.e. farmers, fishermen etc. plus your mum (or dad or whoever prepared your meal). Not to mention, it thanks those who have sacrificed themselves to become the meal itself – animals, plants and everything soon going into your mouth. It’s quite like saying grace for religious purposes, in a way, except with the Japanese phrase you thank not only god, but basically everything that tops your plate.
Also said before consuming a meal, the common etiquette expressed by “Bon appétit” or “Guten Appetit” appear merely as wishes for a pleasant meal, simply lacking the gratitude underlying “Itadakimasu.” The latter, which places its focus upon the food’s source instead of the coming feast, reveal manners that showcase of the traditional Japanese Buddhist foundation (though the religion has been considered less influential during modern times).
Itadakimasu, Another Important Table Manners You Should Know
Likewise, the habit of finishing everything you have been given as a way of showing appreciation to those who have died for you, is Japanese etiquette owing its origin to Buddhist thinking as well.
Other important table manners is that, besides saying “Itadakimasu” before eating, no one should start until everyone has gathered ready at the table. This custom might not be exclusively Japanese – as many will agree that digging in as soon as the food arrives is plainly impolite – but more precisely, no one should start before the highest ranked person among the group does. This could be the household head, the most senior person, or your boss. These manners are not illogical, given the emphasis that seniority has within Japanese daily life.
For those brought up with Confucius-based teachings (e.g. most Asian countries) where etiquette dictates elders and superiors are given emphasized respect, looking to them even before eating may come as quite natural. In contrast, among western or more individualist, non-conformist cultures, waiting for others to start before you are probably manners which require some extra thought.
So to be well-mannered at a Japanese table, you should wait for everyone to gather, then say “Itadakimasu” properly, before you start digging into your food. (Some will also clasp their hands together, sometimes holding the chopsticks with their thumbs, with eyes closed, while saying the phrase.)
Gochisousama-deshita!, After Your Meal And More!
A phrase used after finishing your meal, which can be literally translated with “It was a great deal of work (preparing the meal).” Thus, it might be fair to interpret the Japanese as “Thank you for the meal, it was a feast.” Again, as manners of thanks for the food along with everyone related, omitting saying the phrase will make you look impolite or even ungrateful.
Saying it in a private setting should not be tricky, but what if you are dining at a restaurant alone? Can you skip that display of etiquette, you wonder? The answer: Better not if you have the chance.
Shoving your way into the kitchen to thank the cooks might sound silly, but there are tons of other chances that can express your appreciation with grateful manners. For example, say “Gochisousama-deshita” to the server when paying the bill, or as an opening phrase when you are at the cashier. When there is an open kitchen, casually address the cooks with the phrase when you are making way to leave. You can also say it before the exit, one last time, before departing.
Many say that manners expressing traditional etiquette such as saying “Itadakimasu” or “Gochisousama”, or eating with the whole family have been fading out among Japanese. Reasons can be the busy lifestyles or people not seeing the need anymore with everything coming so handily. True, among many families nowadays, having everyone from father to sons and daughters at the table all together might be a bit laborious. Also, food is available so abundantly that we need not care where everything comes from anymore. But what’s important is not the physical presence around the table or reading these Japanese phrases correctly – it is the sense of appreciation that we should all bear in mind!