Everyone who’s anyone knows that the Japanese word itadakimasu is a set phrase said before eating—in unison by all parties present, ideally—and means “[I] [will?] receive [+humility] [+politeness]”. But today I got to wondering if it’s an actual speech act (i.e. “I hereby humbly receive this meal [in toto, and having received it I shall begin at once to eat it]”) or just a statement about the near future (i.e. “I will [over the course of the next X minutes] humbly eat this meal”).
I didn’t reach a conclusion that satisfied me, but I did open up another fruitless line of internal inquiry: where did itadakimasu, as a set phrase said before eating, even come from? I know that people like to identify it with ancient Shinto, traditional Japanese respect for life, mists of time, &c., but can anyone point to an actual example of it (or even an equivalent phrase) being used in this way in a text written before, say, 1900?…
This is pure speculation, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if its genesis as a nationwide, prescribed, unchangeable thing was early this last century, when the government was using the schools to push three things which were necessary for their imperialist project: nationwide conformity of and obedience to behavioral norms, gratitude for whatever food was available, and shady revisionist Shinto.*
Having said all that, virtually this entire post could be shot down by an example or two of unambiguously non-conversational itadakimasu (or itadakisourou or whatever) from the 1800s or earlier. So does anyone have any?
Well? (And I always thought of it as a speech act, but that’s an interesting question too.)
Oh, and that asterisk? It goes to the following footnote, whose second sentence I should place prominently somewhere on the LH front page:
* Please do not interpret this as a cue to make barbed ironic comments about modern Japanese schools. This blog has a fifty-year minimum wait for political commentary.