If you’re dining with a Japanese friend or staying briefly in Japan, learning a few phrases to enjoy Japanese food can be very useful.
How can you tell your friend, for example, that the sushi tasted so good that it was ‘delicious’ in Japanese? Or that the sake you just tasted was simply “the best”, or the tempura and sashimi you’re eating “tastes wonderfully”?
Of course, since English is an international language, you can easily communicate it in English. Anyone living in the modern world will get to grips every now and then with at least a few English words or phrases.
But if you dine in Japan or are invited by a friend to a Japanese meal, it’s very beneficial to know a few Japanese phrases in advance.
How do you say ‘thank you for the food’ in Japanese?
When saying thank you for the food you can use the Japanese phrase ‘Gochisou sama deshita’ which literally means it was a feast and is used to say thank you for the meal, or you can use ‘oishii’ to say delicious.
For the pronounciation, view this helpful video from Japanesepod101:
Before or during a meal it’s quite like the ‘Bon Appétit’ in France or the ‘Mahlzeit’ in Germany to wish good dinner time.
It allows you to follow good table manners and show your appreciation for good food and can also help ease the atmosphere at the dinner table.
The various phrases to say “delicious” in Japanese
‘Oishii’ is the easiest and most common word to say that Japanese food is ‘delicious’. To some extent, it is universally known that your Japanese host would expect you to say ‘oishii’.
Some other phrases like ‘Umai’ which means the same thing. ‘Umai’ in Japanese also means ‘delicious,’ but it is more informal and is particularly used among a group of young boys.
The traditional way of acknowledging the food’s taste is by saying ‘Hoppe ga ochiru.’ Interestingly, it means ‘the food is so delicious that your cheeks drop off,’ which is a humorous way of expressing the food’s delicacy.
But the more formal way to enjoy good food is to say’ Aji’ in Japanese, which means ‘taste’. ‘Bimi’ is a more important and strong term when you display your written gratitude.
Japanese people might also say ‘Saiko’ mostly after a beer. ‘Saiko’ means ‘this is the best’ and is used when consuming drinks, not on food.
If your Japanese friend says ‘saiko’ instead of ‘oishii’ after taking a drink from a glass containing the popular sake of Hakutsuru, don’t be surprised.
Likewise, if you hear the uttering ‘Siawase’, you can be sure that Japanese girls are enjoying sweets and candies like Mochis.
The same word could also be used to compliment a meal and other dishes as ‘happiness’ is the true meaning of ‘Siawase’.
How you can say Thank You at the Japanese Dinner Table
Now let’s move on and discuss how you can show your gratitude at a Japanese dinner table. The Japanese phrases to express your appreciation are shockingly more than simply ‘thanks’.
These two expressions are “itadakimasu” and “gochisou sama deshita.” The rule of thumb is to say ‘Itadakimasu’ at the beginning of the meal and ‘Gochisosama deshita’ at the end of it.
If you haven’t begun dinner yet, ‘Itadakimasu’ is what you’ll want to say. The word ‘itadakimasu’ can be translated as ‘I humbly accept it’, but the significance implied is far beyond that.
‘Itadakimasu’ is a way to be thankful and remember the people who acted as a conduit between you and the food for Japanese.
It includes peasants, vendors, chefs, family, and so on. The diner also greets the sacrifice of animals and vegetables in becoming the meal.
The phrase at the end of a Japanese meal is ‘Gochisosama deshita’. The literal meaning of this expression is ‘it was a feast’ or ‘it was a delicious meal, but the intended meaning is ‘thank you for the meal’.
Table Manners and Dinner Table Customs in Japan
It may be very difficult for a person from Europe or other cultures to properly understand and observe the Japanese dinner table customs. Yet following a few common dinner customs and table manners is comparatively simpler.
A Japanese dinner table’s main seat is reserved for the group’s most important person. Known as ‘kamiza’, this seat is usually placed, from the dining hall’s entrance on the farthest side of the dinner table.
The use of chopsticks is related to some of the key table manners at a Japanese dinner table. In Japan, when holding chopsticks in hand, no one talks to each other.
If you want to have a quick chat with your fellow diner, you must place your chopsticks calmly on the designated stands.
Likewise, you are not permitted to position the chopsticks in a bowl upright as it would be a tradition reminder of death.
You can’t use chopsticks as a skewer nor as a knife. This means you can’t really stab the food using the chopsticks, nor can you cut the food with them as if they were a knife.
Always, make sure you don’t use your chopsticks as a drumstick and don’t chew or lick them.
You should also take special care in the midst of a Japanese community not to move food between chopsticks.
You can move food from the main plate to your bowl using chopsticks, but you certainly don’t swap chopsticks with someone else.
Is it ok to slurp in Japan?
Though it might surprise you, it’s good etiquette and even appreciated to slurp in Japan or chew noisily while eating Japanese noodles.
The Japanese are very polite and well-mannered and slurping is a way of thanking the cook who made the meal. Slurping demonstrates food enjoyment and gratitude.
This means the hot noodle dish was so tasty by slurping that you couldn’t wait until it gets cooler.
As mentioned earlier, understanding and following all the dinner traditions of a culture you’re recently acquainted with is not very practical. Yet knowing all these practices will allow you to be accepting of certain practices at your hometown might be frowned upon.
More common Japanese phrases at the dinner table
Apart from itadakimasu and gochisousama, there are several important phrases that are good to recall when you happen to eat with a Japanese friend or visit Japan.
Okawari can be translated as “more food please”. The perfect time to say that is when you want more of a particular dish because you’re either still hungry or you’ve found your new favorite Japanese food even if you’re stuffed.
Leaving food on your plate after you’re finished eating is considered rude, particularly when you’ve requested a second helping, so it’s best to ask for the exact amount you’d like to eat.
If you run out of rice, it’s the perfect time to use this phrase. To say “gohan okawari kudasai” means “more rice please”.
Oishii means “The food tastes wonderful”. Using this word mid-chew is a great way to praise the chef so the people you eat with also know how much you enjoy the food.
You can also tell it to let the person who served the food so they know that their food was exactly what you imagined.
The best way to learn how to pronounce “oishii” like a Japanese native is to mimic how many Japanese reality TV stars scream the delicious food they are regularly asked to consume with “Oooiiishii!” eyes-closed, chin-upraised.
Kekkou desu means “no thanks” when you are presented with something. If you don’t want to eat a particular dish, you can use this word, because you know it won’t sit well with you.
You can also use this expression when you’re finished and someone asks you if you want to eat something.
Onaka ga ippai
Onaka ga ippai means “I am full.” This term can be used when sitting back in your chair and loosening your belt buckle for extra space. Often, this statement is helpful if you have to leave some food on the plate but want to be respectful about it.
“Kekkou desu” and “onaka ga ippai” fit together well when you say, “No thank you, I’m full.”
When to use “desu” and “kudasai”
You may have noted that only kekkou desu has desu at the end of the sentences mentioned above. That’s because saying “kekkou” on its own means a very harsh tone.
As for the rest of the phrases, itadakimasu and gochisousama need not add desu to the end, while oishii and onaka ga ippai will be more polite when added desu.
Kudasai means “please” so you might want to add it to a phrase that is a question to someone else, like okawari; particularly when you ask someone who is older than you.
Is bringing your palms together necessary?
The intention of putting your palms together when you give thanks in Japan is to symbolize deep respect, sincerity, and gratitude; this applies to itadakimasu and gochisousama.
Today, in Japan, a large majority perform this act while saying “itadakimasu” or “gochisousama” to further express their gratitude.
It’s not important if you don’t feel comfortable doing it, and you might find that those around you miss this aspect of it.
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