What do the Japanese say before eating?

The Japanese have a beautiful tradition of saying a phrase before meals to express gratitude and appreciation for the food. This phrase is “itadakimasu” (いただきます). In this article, we will explore the meaning behind itadakimasu, how it is used in Japanese culture, and some other interesting facts and traditions related to it.

What does “itadakimasu” mean?

The phrase “itadakimasu” translates literally to “I humbly receive.” It is based on the verb “itadaku” meaning to receive, so “itadakimasu” is the polite present progressive form expressing something like “I am about to humbly receive.”

This phrase conveys gratitude and humility as you receive the meal that is being served. Rather than taking the food for granted, you show your respect through “itadakimasu.”

When do Japanese people say itadakimasu?

In Japan, itadakimasu is said before every meal. It is especially common to say it before eating rice, the staple food of Japanese cuisine, but can be said before eating any dish.

At restaurants, students and workers at school and work cafeterias, and even families at home will put their hands together in front of them in a praying gesture, bow their heads slightly, and say “itadakimasu” before picking up their chopsticks and digging in. It is a ubiquitous practice deeply ingrained in Japanese food culture.

Origins and History

The origins of itadakimasu are not totally clear, but there are a few theories about how the phrase came to be used before meals in Japan:

Buddhist influence

Some believe it originated from Buddhist practices. In Buddhism, receiving food is considered an act of mercy and compassion. Expressing gratitude before meals aligns with Buddhist teachings.

Joining the palms in front of the chest comes from gassho, a Buddhist prayer pose representing respect. This indicates spiritual thanks before eating.

Receiving an honor

In the past, receiving a meal prepared by someone else was an honor that required appreciation. The phrase uses the term “itadaku” which indicates humbly receiving something from a superior.

Meals were seen as gifts; saying “itadakimasu” showed the meal was accepted with grace and humility.


It most likely evolved from combining Buddhist concepts and the custom of thanking hosts for providing meals. The spiritual and social meanings merged into the phrase still used today.

Other Mealtime Customs

Itadakimasu is not the only Japanese custom related to meals. Here are a few other traditions commonly practiced:

Saying gochisosama after eating

Once the meal is finished, Japanese people say “gochisosama” or “gochisosama deshita.” This expresses thanks for the meal. Directly translated, it means “that was a feast.”

No sharing of chopsticks

In Japan, it is taboo to pass food chopsticks directly from one person’s mouth to another. Chopsticks are considered personal utensils. Sharing is only done indirectly like serving food onto someone’s plate.

Slurping noodles

Slurping hot noodles like ramen or udon is totally normal and in fact shows appreciation for the taste and texture of the dish. The loud slurping brings air along with the noodles, cooling them for eating.

Bowls lifted to mouth

Japanese cuisine often uses bowls to serve meals like rice, soup, and noodle dishes. These bowls are brought straight to the mouth when eating rather than placing food onto additional plates.

Saying “meshiagare” to seniors

Younger people can encourage their elders to eat well by saying “meshiagare” which means something like “eat up!” or “let’s eat!” This shows care and concern.

Proper Forms for Different Contexts

There are a few different forms of itadakimasu to use appropriately in various dining situations:


The standard phrase pronounced “itadakimasu” is the most common and versatile form, suitable for any daily meal among family, friends, or coworkers.


“Itadakimashita” is the past tense, essentially meaning “I have received it.” This would be used when you did not say itadakimasu before an informal meal.

Itadakimasu soshite kampai

For more festive meals like at a party or gathering, saying “itadakimasu soshite kampai” will add the celebratory “kampai” meaning “cheers!” after giving thanks.

Gochiso itadakimasu

At elegant, formal meals, use the phrase “gochiso itadakimasu” to politely give thanks for the feast you will partake in.

Regional Variations

While itadakimasu is said all over Japan, local dialects can lead to some regional variations in pronunciation:

Kansai region

In the Kansai area of Japan including Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe, itadakimasu is pronounced with a distinctive, melodic intonation: “itadakiMAsu.”

Fukuoka region

In the southern Fukuoka area, they say “itatakimasu” instead. The “da” sound becomes a slightly different “ta” sound in the local dialect.


In Okinawa Prefecture, the phrase “chumuchumu” or “sachibuchibu” is used instead due to the influence of the Okinawan language. These essentially mean “thank you for the food.”

Region Itadakimasu pronunciation
Kansai ItadakiMASU
Fukuoka ItatakiMASU
Okinawa Chumuchumu or sachibuchibu

Uses in Pop Culture and Media

The custom of itadakimasu is so widespread in Japan that it naturally appears in many forms of Japanese media and pop culture:

Anime and manga

It’s very common to see anime and manga characters saying itadakimasu before meals. This helps establish scenes as taking place in Japan and also shows politeness.

Instructional videos

Japanese cooking shows, tutorials, and meal vlogs will often open by saying itadakimasu on camera. Viewers may say it along with the hosts before watching them eat.

Television dramas

Family dinners in J-dramas will depict natural itadakimasu scenes. The phrase may be repeated many times in a single episode when showing multiple meals.

Movie scenes

Films set in Japan will include characters saying itadakimasu to add authenticity. It helps establish the Japanese setting and culture.


The song Itadakimasu by Japanese band Radwimps is named after the mealtime phrase. Some other Japanese songs reference it or mention it in lyrics.

Significance in Japanese Culture

Beyond merely being a part of dining etiquette, saying itadakimasu reflects core Japanese cultural values:

Gratitude and humility

The phrase expresses gratitude for receiving the meal, acknowledging it as a gift rather than an entitlement. Saying it with sincerity requires humility.

Respect for food and those who prepare it

By giving thanks before meals, itadakimasu shows respect for the ingredients, time and effort put into the food and the cooks who produced it.

Harmony in social relations

Making it a consistent practice promotes social unity and harmony. Everyone from family members to colleagues participates together.


Taking a moment with itadakimasu establishes a mindset of care and awareness around consuming the meal after hurriedly working or studying.

Itadakimasu Outside Japan

While itadakimasu is strongly linked to Japanese culture, it is also seen outside Japan in a couple interesting ways:

Japanese restaurants internationally

At Japanese restaurants around the world, it is common to provide itadakimasu phrases on menus or posters so non-Japanese patrons can also participate in the custom.

Non-Japanese using itadakimasu

Some non-Japanese who enjoy Japanese cuisine and culture have adopted the practice of saying itadakimasu when they prepare Japanese food at home or eat at Japanese restaurants abroad.

For those outside Japan who say itadakimasu, it can represent a way of honoring and participating in Japanese culture, rather than appropriating it. Using it with sincerity reflects respect and appreciation for Japanese tradition.


Itadakimasu is a unique part of Japanese cuisine culture that expresses gratitude before receiving a meal. With roots in Buddhist teachings and the social customs of honoring hosts, it reflects core Japanese values of humility, harmony, and respect. This simple phrase offers profound meaning in just two words.

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