The Word “Itadakimasu” and the Art of Receiving

The Japanese people say “Itadakimasu” before meals which means “I humbly receive.”  The essence of the Japanese culture and the mentality is in a simple word of “Itadakimasu.”  From the ancient time, having a meal was considered to be a “shinji” or  a sacred ceremony in Japan.  In the old days, people used to say the long version.

天地の恵み、箸を高く捧げて いただきます

The grace of the Heaven and the Earth
I raise my hashi (chopsticks) high
I humbly receive

The gesture of raising the chopsticks high means that you are reaching out to the Heaven. The word “hashi” in Japanese has been considered something that connects people with the divine since the ancient time in Japan. The word “hashi” (箸) means a pair of chopsticks and it is related to the word “hashira” (柱)or “pillar.”  You may realize the wooden sticks are the shape of wooden pillars and the pillars connect the earth and the sky.  The word “hashi”  (橋)also means “bridge.”  The concept of “connecting” is found in this word as well. And when you use chopsticks, you are using “hashi” (端) or the edges of the sticks.

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Most of the Japanese children grow up hearing the following saying: in each grain of rice, there is a god (divinity).  It encourages each children to respect each grain and to finish up to the last grain of rice during meals.

When you say “Itadakimasu,” you are acknowledging that you are receiving the gift of lives, the gift of people’s labor, and the gift from the nature.  Acknowledging that you are receiving from the divine gifts creates the connection that they are becoming a part of you.

Motoori Norinaga, the Japanese Classics Scholar, has written a waka (Japanese poem) about his gratitude for food.

たなつもの 百の木草も 天照す 日の大神の恵み ありてこそ

The food here and hundreds of trees and vegetables were only because we receive the grace of Amaterasu (heavenly shining)  divinity of the sun

Motoori Norinaga (AD1730-AD1801),  Japanese Classics Scholar

In the Japanese classics “Kojiki” and “Manyoshu,” the county of Japan is called “Osukuni.” “Osu” means “to eat,” “to treasure” or   “to love” as in “oshimu” (惜しむ) and “itooshimu” (愛おしむ).

The word “itadakimasu” represents the communion between the people and the divine which is in everything and everyone that went into making the food.

The oldest hotel in the world is in Japan


Did you know that the world’s oldest hotel is in Japan?   “Keiunkan, Koshu Nishiyama Hot Spring” which is located in the town of Hayakawa in Yamanashi prefecture, Japan is certified as “the world’s most historical inn” by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2011.

The history of Keiunkan Inn dates back 1300 years.  The hot spring was founded by a scholar named Fujiwara no Mahito in AD 705 which was the 2nd year of the Keiun Era during the reign of Emperor Monmu.  Mahito was the son of Fujiwara no Kamatari who served as a politician under Emperor Tenchi.  It has also been recorded that famous Samurais such as Takeda Shingen and Tokugawa Ieyasu have stayed here for recuperation during the feudal time.

Keiunkan has been passed down through the same family lineage for 52 generations. Yuji Fukazawa is the current president of Keiunkan. Although the Inn is located in a remote mountain area, it runs a successful business.  According to the customer survey conducted by Japan Travel Bureau, Keiunkan has received 95% satisfaction rate.

Fukazawa has shared the secret of his Inn’s success with the readers of a Japanese business Journal, ITmedia Business.  He keeps the hot spring water to be pure and as natural as possible. No chloride, no additives,  no tap water is added.  He also does not use any artificial heating processes.  In 2004,  many hot spring resorts in Japan were found to be using recycled water or artificially blended tap water. However, Keiunkan intentionally kept its tradition of offering natural hot spring water.  Because of Fukazawa’s efforts, Keiunkan still offers the the pure hot spring similar to what people enjoyed 1300 years ago.

“Superiority” is measured by true modesty in Japan

There is a famous old saying in Japanese, “the boughs that bear most hang lowest.”  This means “the greater you become as a person,  the more modest you become.”  The origin of this phrase is not known.  However, this concept still holds true in Japan.  The current Japanese Emperor, Akihito, who is the highest in rank in Japan is considered the most humble person in Japan.  This video footage was taken when he visited the earthquake victims in Kumamoto in 2016.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was also kneeling down when he met with the earthquake victims. This kind of “modest attitude” is somewhat expected of a great leader in Japan.

In Bible, a very similar concept of a “great” person is stated.

42 So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those regarded as rulers of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and their superiors exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be this way among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  44 and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.…

New Testament, Mark 10:42-44

The famous Japanese company called MINOLTA also lives by this motto.  The corporation’s website explains the origin of the company name.  They took the first letters from “Machinery and instruments Optical by Tashima.”  It also comes from the Japanese word, “Minoru (crop bearing) ta (rice field).”  It is explained that they wanted to remember the founder’s mother’s word to always be modest as in “the boughs that bear most hang lowest.”  The concept of modesty is valued even in the business world in Japan.

There has been no known written religious dogma or rules to make people modest in Japan but this tradition has been cherished for millennia.

In the first Japanese formal history document edited by the government of that time called “Nihonshoki” which was completed in AD 720,  the Emperor Nintoku’s word is recorded.  It states the following:

The reason for the Heavenly Person (Emperor) to be standing is for the People.


Book of Emperor Nintoku, Nihonshoki

From the ancient time, it has been known in Japan that the leader (the Emperor) existed to serve the people.  This may be closely related to the fact that modesty is still highly valued in the Japanese society.

Emperor Nintoku and the People’s Cooking Stoves


Emperor Nintoku, the 16th Emperor who is said to have lived around the 4th Century was one of the most respected Emperors in the history of Japan who embodied the concept of the Japanese style “democracy.”  His grave is considered to be the largest in the world which is about 113 acres and approximately 111 feet in height. In the first Japanese formal historical document called “Nihonshoki”  which was completed in AD 720,  the Emperor Nintoku’s word is recorded.  It states the following:

The reason for the Heavenly Person (Emperor) to be standing is for the People.

Book of Emperor Nintoku, Nihonshoki

There is a famous story of Emperor Nintoku called “People’s Cooking Stoves” (Tami no Kamado) which is still passed down in Japan.

Emperor Nintoku made the town of Naniwa to be the new Capital.  However, he saw the town from Takatsu Palace and saw the people’s chimneys were not generating enough smokes from their cooking stoves.

He said, “the reason why there is not much smoke coming out of the town must be because they are too poor to cook anything. If the city is like this, the country side should be worse.”

So he has made an official statement to stop collecting tax for the next 3 years.  The Emperor did not make any new clothes since then. The palace walls and the roof deteriorated but he refrained from repairing.  He even saw the starlights in between the cracks.

Three years have passed.  The Emperor went to a hill top and he saw a lot of smoke coming out of the people’s cooking stoves.  He said to the Empress,  “I am rich already.”  She said, “You say strange things. How can you say you are rich when the palace wall and the roof is broken?”

He said to the Empress,”Listen carefully. The business of governing must be based on people.  If the people are rich, I can say that I am also rich.”  The Emperor smiled.

At that time, lots of people from different places told the Emperor, “the palace is broken but the people got rich. If someone forgot something on the road, no one picks it up these days.  If we do not pay tax and also not volunteer to repair the palace, we will be punished by heaven.”

However, the Emperor still did not accept tax for the next 3 years.  After 6 years, he finally approved and resumed collecting tax and allowed to repair the palace.

In Nihonshoki, it is noted as the following:

Without being directed, people voluntarily started bringing in the building materials and carried things to the Palace.  The people worked day and night and they even competed with each other in their work.  The Palace was finished completely in no time.  That is why he is called “Saint Emperor.” After his passing,  he was buried in Mozuno Misasagi in the country of Izumi.

In “Kojiki” it is also noted that his grave is in Mozuno Mimihara. “Nihonshoki” also wrote that his grave was a “Jyuryo” which means that the construction of the site was already finished while he was alive.  During the Emperor’s reign, it is known that a lot of agricultural construction work such as building waterways in the rice field took place.  A large amount of soil had to be removed and piled up somewhere and many mounds were created as a result.  It is only natural to assume that the largest mound in the area was selected to bury the respected Emperor.

To this day, the story of Emperor Nintoku and “the People’s Cooking Stoves” is shared by many Japanese people. The story is also embedded in the lyrics of the City of Osaka song.

Since the ancient time of the Takatsu Palace
After generations of prosperity
Smokes still coming out of the people’s cooking stoves
Thriving in excellence, the City of Osaka
Thriving in excellence, the City of Osaka

The Osaka City Song

The most “powerful women” at home are the Japanese wives


It is often misunderstood by the rest of the world that the Japanese women are mistreated, subordinate to men or powerless in Japan. It is simply not true.  It is mostly because none of them know this simple fact that a majority of the Japanese wives control the finances at home.

60% of wives and 20% of husbands control finances at home in Japan.

-Sompo Japan Survey, 2013

The Japanese wives are actually “most powerful” at home compared to wives in other cultures.  The majority of the Japanese women are solely responsible for making domestic financial decisions. When a man makes a big purchase, he would have to ask for permission from his wife in most households.  The average Japanese husbands receive weekly or monthly “allowances.” The wife may or may not work. It doesn’t matter how much money she makes. It’s probably because most Japanese men know deep in their hearts that the Japanese women tend to be more “financially savvy” and they will end up saving more money that way. If the husband is not happy with the amount of his allowances, he can negotiate with his wife. However, it is usually met with a comment from his wife such as “YOU need to make more money in order to do that.”


Survey conducted by a major Japanese insurance company, Sompo Japan

It’s just how the average Japanese homes are run.  In some cases when the wife is not so financially savvy,  the husband may be in charge of the finances at home. This translates into the figure of 20% of the Japanese husbands said they are responsible for managing the domestic finances in the survey.

It is noted in a Japanese book called “Daughters of Samurai” (Bushi no Musume) by Chikuma Bunko Publishing that the wives of Samurais were responsible for managing the finances at home in Edo era (1603 – 1868) .  The author was shocked to learn that the American wives on the other hand had to ask permission from their husbands to spend money because men controlled the domestic finances before the women gained equal rights in America.


Amaterasu, a female divine figure in Japan

I don’t have a clear answer to why this unique phenomena is happening in Japan.  One reason I can think of is the underlining matriarchal culture of the “prehistoric” Jyomon era is still deeply embedded in the Japanese culture. To this day, the word “Kakaadenka” which literally means “under the rule of Mother” is used to describe when the wife is the dominating force at home.

In the oldest Japanese historical publication called “Kojiki (Furukotofumi)” which was edited by Oono Yasumaro in AD 712, the evidence of the underlining matriarchal society in Japan is clearly stated. According to Kojiki, one of the most prominent divine ancestral figures is Amaterasu omi kami (Amateru).  She is seen as the political leader and the goddess of the sun.  Amaterasu is considered one of the most famous “founding mothers” of Japan and the Emperors of Japan are considered to be the direct descendant of Amaterasu.

The word “kami” in Japanese language means “god” or “divinity” but it also means “leader” at the same time. The government itself in the feudal era was called “okami” and the local leaders were called by a name which combined the name of the area and “kami” as in “Tosa no kami” which meant “the leader of Tosa.”  The word “kami” is still used to mean “leader” or “owner” in Japanese language.  The female proprietors of traditional Japanese restaurants and inns are also called “okami.” At Japanese households, the wife is sometimes called by their husbands “kami-san.”

In Japanese culture, women have been playing leadership roles for millennia. It must have worked out well for the people. Otherwise, this tradition would not have survived so long.