Since language is very culturally dependent, many Japanese words and phrases are hard to translate into different languages, including English. As an English speaker, you may not have a specific greeting for before and after a meal or before and after leaving and coming home, but these everyday Japanese phrases are an important part of the culture. It’s easy to remember them as there are not many variations and are used daily in Japan.
As with many cultures, eating plays a large role in Japan. Even when dining alone, Japanese people often say out loud the following phrases before and after a meal. Some people place their hands together in front of their chest and bow their heads slightly while saying the phrases, giving thanks for the food.
Itadakimasu (頂きます) is one of the first phrases taught to children, as well as Japanese students and it means, “Let’s eat!”. Literally translated as “I will have,” or “I will eat,” in a polite form, the phase is most commonly used before beginning a meal. It is said with gratefulness to the cook, the farmers and the ingredients. When eating with others, you should wait until everyone is ready and say the phrase together. When you are served by a host, you can look at them when you say it to them.
Gochisōsamadeshita (ご馳走様でした) is said after the meal in appreciation of the meal you have consumed. It is considered rude in Japan to not finish your food, therefore you should try to finish whatever is served to you. The short form, “gochisōsama”, can also be used, perhaps in more casual settings. If you are eating out and someone else is paying for your meal, you should make sure to say the phrase to them specifically to thank them for the meal. You should also say it to the cook if you are served at home, or to restaurant staff when eating out.
When leaving home for work, school or going out, Japanese people will use these specific phrases with each other. Try to remember which one is said when you are the one leaving or when you are saying it to someone else leaving.
Ittekimasu (行ってきます) is said by the person that is leaving the home, meaning “I will go.” It doubles as a “see you later” or “Ok I’ll get going now” or simply “bye” when leaving, but also implies that the person will be coming back. It can be used in the morning when leaving home or at the airport before leaving on a trip to those you are leaving behind.
Itterasshai (行ってらっしゃい) is the proper phrase to say to the person leaving, often after they announce their departure. It could be directly translated as “go and come back,” but has more of a meaning of: “see you later!” or “take care!”.
It is said with well wishes when they are out, and for them to come back safely. You could also add ki wo tsukete (気を付けて) before the itterasshai, as “ki wo tsukete itterasshai,” to emphasise for them to stay safe. “Ki wo tsukeru”, means “to stay safe”.
Your parents may have said “Honey, I’m home!” to each other when they came home after work. In Japan, there are specific phrases used when people come home as well.
Tadaima (只今) literally means, “just now,” as in “I’ve just come home now.” When returning home, people say this as they announce their arrival usually as they open the door or step into the home. As with itterasshai/ittekimasu, this can be used for arriving back to Japan from a trip or visiting your parents’ home after a while.
Okaerinasai (お帰りなさい), or “okaeri” for short, is used to welcome someone else home, usually after they say “tadaima”. It literally means “you have come home” and it’s basically akin to: “Welcome home!” It is a warm, welcoming phrase used with gratitude toward the person coming home safely.
You’ll hear these everyday Japanese phrases more regularly now you know them. Why not try them for yourself?
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