September 16, 2010
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Today I ate with one of the 6th grade classes at Ichiba. In Japanese elementary schools, the kids eat in the classroom, instead of going to a cafeteria or multipurpose room like we do in the states. They also all eat the school lunch, which is usually the case in the States except for a few kids who always brought a lunch from home (like I did). Before and after the meal, one or two students will lead the class in saying a “greeting.”
For those of you who don’t know, in Japan the custom for meals is to recite set phrases before and after eating. Before a meal, you would say “Itadakimasu” which is literally the humble form of saying, “I will eat” or “I will receive.” After a meal, the phrase is “Gochisousama deshita” which literally means “[That] was an honorable feast” or better translated as “Thank you for the food.” For both phrases, you would put your hands together as if about to say a prayer. Note that it’s not the exact equivalent of a prayer, so if you follow a particular religion and you’re about to have a meal in Japan, saying “itadakimasu” and “gochisousama deshita” is not committing an offense against your faith.
In the U.S. we don’t have universal phrases for mealtime because each family is different. My family is Christian, so we would say a prayer before eating, but we didn’t say anything after the meal except for “excuse me” when we’re about to leave the table. When my mom cooked for us I usually said “Thank you” afterward.
When they asked me about “itadakimasu,” I explained that we didn’t really have such a phrase in English and that it’s okay to say, “Let’s eat.” But when they asked me about after the meal, I couldn’t think of an equivalent nor any phrase that would be easy for Japanese elementary school students to say (I hadn’t thought of “Thank you for the food” at the time). So I told the class that we didn’t really have a phrase.
So what did the lead student say when we clapped our hands together after the meal?