During my time in Japan, I have grown accustomed to a lot of the traditions that are apart of everyday life. For instance, there are words that Japanese people say before and after a meal. Also, when exiting an elevator, Japanese people say “sumimasen” meaning “excuse me” while bowing their head. There are even holidays that involve certain traditions such as setsubun or “bean throwing.” For this Field Note, I will talk about my experiences taking part in Japanese traditions.
What tradition did I learn about?:
The first tradition I want to tell you about is one that is done everyday. There are two phrases used during every meal in Japan: “itadakimasu” and “gochisousamadeshita.” They are very long phrases. Don’t you think? The first phrase is used at the beginning of a meal. When I eat breakfast in the morning or when I sit down for dinner with my host family, we all say “itadakimasu!” When we say this we put our hands together and slightly bow our heads. This is done before and after a meal. In English, “itadakimasu” can be translated as “Let’s eat!” and “gochisousamadeshita” can be translated as “thank you for this meal.” The second phrase is also a way letting everyone know that you have finished your meal and excusing yourself from the table. Usually after saying this , someone will reply with “hai” meaning “yes.”
Now, you try! First, put your hands together and then bow your head while saying “itadakimasu” then “gochisousamadeshita.” Pronounce the first phrase like “ee-ta-da-ki-mas” and the next as “go-chi-so-sa-ma-deh-she-ta .”
The second tradition is called “setsubun”. This tradition involves throwing beans at other people and wearing a demon mask! I took part in this with my host family. After dinner, my host sister drew an oni face, or a demon’s face , on a piece of paper. After that, we attached rubber bands on the side of the picture so that we could wear it. My host dad wore the mask first and he chased us around the living room while growling. While he did, that my host sister and I had to throw beans at him so to make him go away. During this tradition, people say “oniwasoto, fukuwauchi”. In English, that means “demons outside, luck inside”.
Why does the community have this tradition?:
“Itadakimasu” and “gochisousamadeshita” are based on the Buddhist religion. In Japan, Buddhism and Shinto, another religion, are practiced by many people. In Japan, a lot of respect is paid to nature. Therefore, by saying these phrases they are showing respect to nature for providing the food as well as the people who prepared the food. For example, they are showing respect to the people who grew the food on a farm or cut the meat in a factory.
Sestubun: The practice of throwing the beans is called mamemaki and it is supposed to drive the bad spirits away. My host family and I threw beans outside the house and then inside. They told me that by this practice sends out bad spirits and brings in good fortune.
This is important because after the New Year, everyone wants good luck and to have good year. People also celebrate this at temple as well, because people often pray for good fortune at temples. For children, it is fun to throw beans and play with their parents! My host sister laughed the whole time and threw the beans.
Is this tradition connected to its environment? How?:
These traditions are definitely connected to the environment and nature. By always saying “Itadakimasu” and “gochisousamadeshita”, people are saying “thank you for providing this food” to the animals, plants, and people that have provided the food that they are going to eat.
By saying these phrases, it is also implied that they will finish their food. In Japan, people do not usually waste their food. It is looked at as wasting what was given to you, especially after you said you were thankful for it. It is similar in America when your parents tell you to finish all your food. They do not want it to go to waste.
However, this tradition is even practiced in their fast food restaurants like McDonalds. When I went to McDonalds, I left a couple of fries on my tray that were small. When I went to throw my food away, I noticed that there was not even a waste bin. There was only a recycling bin can for plastic and a recycling bin for paper. This is because you are expected to finish your food. Do you also think that it would be a good idea to have only recycling bins in fast food restaurants so that everyone finished their food?
Japanese people do not like to waste anything including food, water, and electricity.
Setsubun: The bean throwing tradition was originally a Chinese tradition based on the Lunar calendar. They throw beans because in Japanese folklore, beans are considered good luck. (geenshinto.com)
I hope you enjoyed learning about some Japanese traditions! It was very interesting to take part in these traditions and learn more Japanese words in the process!