What Does Itadakimasu Mean? The unexplainable Japanese word, explained

    I’m sure you’ve seen people in TV shows or movies say itadakimasu (いただきます) before digging into a meal. Maybe you’ve been with a Japanese person who’s said it. Maybe you’ve even said it yourself. But what does it really mean, anyway?

    The Meaning and Origin of Itadakimasu

    Some of you may recognize the girl in the above video as Hiroko from HirokoChannel. She also does some stuff for JapanesePod101, and this video does a great job of summing up the origin of the word itadakimasu and how it came to be used as it is today.

    As Japan has a healthy background of Buddhist culture, it’s not surprising that itadakimasu is also related to the Buddhist principle of respecting all living things. Before meals, itadakimasu is said as a thanks to the plants and animals that gave their lives for the meal you’re about to consume. It also thanks all those involved, ranging from the hunter/farmer to the preparer of the meal.

    How to Use Itadakimasu

    Character from Madoka about to eat ramen

    In Japan, it’s common to say itadakimasu before eating a meal. The word itadakimasu is often translated as “I humbly receive,” but when relating to food, it’s often compared to saying “Let’s eat,” “Bon appétit,” or “Thanks for the food.” Some even compare it to the Christian tradition of saying grace before a meal.

    An anime character eating ramen

    It’s not unusual for everyone to say itadakimasu together, but it’s just as common for people to say it individually or quietly to themselves before digging in. A proper itadakimasu, however, is performed with clasped hands and a slight bow.

    Why You Should Always Clean Your Plate in Japan

    An empty plate
    Source: cheaptalk.org

    In Japan, it’s considered wasteful not to finish your plate. This is related to the Buddhist philosophy that all life is sacred. If you are really sincere about that itadakimasu you said, you should eat all your food. Since something gave up its life for your meal, it’s kind of disrespectful to let it go to waste. And speaking of disrespectful, here’s a list of other things to avoid while at the Japanese dinner table.

    As Japanese portion sizes are relatively small, few people have trouble finishing their plate. I’m sure your parents have told you at least once to eat all your food, but in Japan, it’s even more important since they are mindful of the entire process that went into bringing the food to the table.

    Other Uses

    Person giving out a gift with a red ribbon

    Itadakimasu has other uses as well. Not only can you use it before eating a meal, but you can also use it when you accept something from someone. With the literal translation being, “I humbly receive,” this makes perfect sense. For example, if someone gives you a gift, or if you take a free sample of something at a counter in a store, you can use itadakimasu. Pretty much anytime you are receiving something, itadakimasu can apply.

    To get a better feel for when it’s appropriate to use itadakimasu outside of food related situations, you can always watch some J-dramas or anime and pay attention to when itadakimasu is said. You’ll catch on in no time.

    So, did you learn something new today, or did you already know all about itadakimasu? It’s an important word to know in Japanese, so I hope this helped your understanding of it. Are there any other Japanese words or phrases that don’t quite make enough sense to you? Let us know in the comments!

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