Food Ritual – Japan

(Original Kanji)

(Japanese in English)

(English Translation)

Seiko Takeshita – Thanks before and after meals

Before every meal Seiko always expresses thanks by saying these words right before she will eat. This ritual has been in Japanese culture since ancient times. It was normally only uttered by the peasantry because they did not have much food. They were self-sufficient and normally only cultivated rice farms. So generally all they ever got to eat was rice and vegetables. Seiko told me that meat was considered a delicacy and only the upper class and royal family got to indulge in such food. Because of this monarchical system, Japanese peasants would sometimes get their crops taken from them by the local government. This is the reason why they would say thanks before and after every meal, because they didn’t know when their next one would be.

The circumstances are not nearly as bad anymore, so now Japanese people just say it as a tradition honoring the past and their ancestors. This act is generally performed as a family together, but it can also be performed alone. The family mutters these words in unison and then begins their meal. They all remain at the table until everyone has completed their meal and then they say the second phrase. Which is basically the same thing, but with an extra phrase at the end that means, “I am full.” Seiko told me that when she performs this tradition at home with her family it gives off a homely feeling. It unites them as one particularly for that small time while they are all at the dinner table. She really liked the sensation that she experiences after saying the phrase. This act is also a common courtesy that one uses when they are thanking the host or hostess for the meal they are about to eat. In Japanese culture, it is polite to let the cook know that their effort is appreciated.

As far as Seiko knows, this tradition is common throughout all Japanese families. They all perform this with their family and friends. One peculiarity is that Japanese people only do this with other Japanese people. If they are with friends who are not Japanese then they do not perform the ritual. They do not want to be viewed as impolite for leaving someone out of something. Seiko also told me that this is not a religious tradition. It is purely a cultural tradition that has been passed down through the ages and the Japanese continue to honor it.