Episode 5: Itadakimasu-Gochisosama Thanks For The Hospitality
If you have ever had the opportunity to go to a Chinese banquet, you will soon realize that the Chinese treat eating as a celebration, like a never ending thanksgiving, and they approach the art of preparing, cooking and consuming food with unbridled passion. We have even imported from the Chinese a four-ideogram-compound Shu Chi Niku Rin (Ponds Of Alcohol Forests Of Meat), which translates directly to “ponds of booze, forests of meat.”
Now let’s have a brief look at the history of the 4 phases of the Japanese food tradition and what it has lead us to here in Land Of The Rising Son.
The Japanese first food tradition is the original one developed by farmers and fisherman and consistent primarily of vegetables, rice and seafood prepared simply at home, and served without any special ceremony.
Actually having lived in a rural farming area in the outskirts of Tokyo, to me this was representative of the typical Japanese family Way of Food from the very beginning .
The second food tradition of Japan was developed by Buddhist monks, and consist primarily of vegetarian dishes austerely prepared and served in small portions in keeping with the reserve nature of this religious order. Buddhist monks and temple guests are served this type of diet, and I had the opportunity to have an authentic Buddhist temple breakfast after a meditation session there, it happened to be quite delicious.
The third food tradition in Japan is known kaisei and was developed by tea masters for guest before the ceremonial tea.
Kaiseki consists of miniature portions of vegetables and seafood, often boiled and dried.
To me personally kaiseki is the pinnacle of a dinning experience.
And can not recommend it highly enough for the ultimate food journey, for those who are interested.
I was trying to find a way to explain kaiseki to my business associate, and the best I could come up with was to say it’s a spiritual eating experience and you are thankful for each and every exquisite mouthful.
The fourth Japanese food traditions is the one developed over the centuries of the unmatched hospitality industry of Japan; many of these dishes originated in the kitchens of the early imperial and shogunate courts. This is the Japanese cuisine that is most familiar to the non-Japanese for example, sashimi, sushi, tempura, soba, yakitori, tonkatsu, waygyu, I am sure you get the picture.
In profound contrast to the Chinese, who like a large variety of dishes, large portions, and in a noisy, free-for-all atmosphere in the restaurants, any trip to Hong Kong can attest to this dinning phenomena amongst the Chinese.
The essence of Japanese food, is small portions, artistically shaped, and served on china and lacquerware that is conspicuous for its beauty. In fact you could say that the Japanese consider food to be a type of art and I concur with these sentiment.
Japanese table manners in fine restaurants, in contrast to banquet rooms, or hot springs dining halls, are restrained and stylized as the food serve. Yes indeed, and once you come to understand the meaning of this styled ritual and you will be one step closer inside the mind of the enigmatic Japanese.
There is a precise etiquette for sitting, serving and being served, and eating.
There are two very important words in Japanese with deep meaning but no equivalent sentiment in the English concept of language. Itadakimasu and gochiso sama are very important parts of the dining etiquette in Japan. Itadakimasu is said just before eating, it literally means “to receive” or “accept ” but in this context more like a DNA infused Japanese Way in a ritualistic connotation, you could almost say it’s like a prayer. Now where are you going to get universal compliance like this anywhere else? Preschool, kindergarten, or grade 1 perhaps?
Gochiso sama, which has the meaning of “thank you for the meal or drinks” is said after the completion of a meal, when leaving the table or shortly thereafter, to whomever has provided the meal, whether at a restaurant, or at someone’s home.
This will make them feel warm and fuzzy all over as they have fulfilled their duty of honouring the guest.
Keep in mind, whether the occasion is formal or informal, these words are very meaningful and carry weight to the Japanese, and make no mistake about it, if these important social conventions are omitted by a Japanese, it would be regarded as impolite or arrogant indeed.
While both of these terms have been socially obligatory in the formal situation for generations and are still universally used in Japan, and whether itadakimasu and goshisō sama are used in informal and casual situations, basically they represent little more than thoughtful politeness.
How about that for some social lubrication the keep this orderly society flowing along?
Now you’ll find that the further you internalize these phrases and put them to practical use with the Japanese, the further along you will be indeed, you will begin to understand the full power of the deep societal meaning of these words.
And of course you understand, the Japanese are so pleased and appreciate when non-Japanese use these important expressions
To the Japanese you using itadakimau and goshisō sama and understand them as the culturally important words they are, is a very lovely and thoughtful gesture and show not only some knowledge of Japanese culture, but will always leaves a lasting and important impression on your host.
You will have pictures to prove it.