Food is an essential part of life and a central part of any culture. Japan is well known for its sushi, curries, soups, noodles, and more. Japan’s penchant for courtesy and respect also plays a part in the country’s mealtime expressions.
Here are some Japanese vocabulary terms you can use during meal times.
1) Gohan (meal)
hiragana: ごはん kanji: 御飯
This term literally refers to the white rice that plays a big role in most meals. Over the years, it has become understood in context to refer to a meal in general.
2) Asagohan (breakfast)
hiragana: あさごはん kanji: 朝御飯
Asa literally means “morning.” You might recognize gohan from our first Japanese vocabulary word. When you combine the two, asagohan translates literally to “morning meal.”
3) Hirugohan (lunch)
hiragana: ひるごはん kanji: 昼御飯
Just as asa means morning, hiru means noon. So hirugohan literally means “noontime meal.”
4) Bangohan (dinner)
hiragana: ばんごはん kanji: 晩御飯]
By now you may have already guessed that ban means “evening.” So yes, bangohan means exactly what you’d think – “evening meal.”
5) Itadakimasu (Let’s eat!)
hiragana: いただきます kanji: 頂きます
This is a traditional phrase to say before you eat; it’s almost like saying bon appetit in French.
6) Gochisou sama deshita (What a feast!)
hiragana: ごちそうさまでした kanji:
The literal translation for gochisou sama deshita is “What a feast.” Figuratively, however, it’s a way to say, “Thank you for the food,” or “What a great meal!”
It’s generally considered polite to wait for everyone and say, “Let’s eat”; but it’s also polite to recognize the cook’s hard work. If you have ever tried Japanese food, or observed a Japanese cook at work, you may already have an appreciation for his or her way of doing things.
7) Taberu (to eat)
hiragana: たべる kanji: 食べる
You may have noticed that many of the mealtime phrases that include verbs end in –masu, while this verb in its given form ends in -ru. This is because taberu is the dictionary form, while other phrases have been conjugated into a more typical present-tense format.
The -masu form of taberu is tabemasu. To say “I am/you are/we are/they are eating breakfast,” you could say:
- Asagohan o tabemasu. (Romaji)
In most cases, you don’t conjugate Japanese verbs according to subject. You can also leave out pronouns, for the most part, since the intended pronoun is generally understood from context.
Among friends or peers, you can simplify the verb by using the dictionary form, but stay on the safe side and use the -masu form the majority of the time.
8) (O)cha (tea)
hiragana: (お)ちゃ kanji: (お)茶
Tea is one of the most widespread and common drinks in Japan. The Japanese have also developed very elaborate tea ceremonies as part of their traditions and culture.
The optional “o” at the beginning is a title of respect – rather appropriately, since tea is a respectable drink.
9) Nomu (to drink)
hiragana: のむ kanji: 飲む
Like taberu, nomu is the dictionary form.
The masu form is nomimasu (hiragana: のみます kanji: 飲みます).
So to say “(Someone is) drinking tea,” you could say:
- Ocha o nomimasu. (Romaji)
10) (O)hashi (chopsticks)
hiragana: (お)はし kanji: (お)箸
Like tea, chopsticks can be referred to in a more formal or respectful fashion by adding “o” (お) to the beginning.
11) Chawan (tea cup)
hiragana: ちゃわん kanji: 茶碗
Traditional Japanese teacups are simple, but difficult to create. They are very artistic; the potter must use techniques and materials to allow the inner spirit of the piece to emerge. Take a closer look next time you enjoy a cup of tea!
For a visual reminder of these mealtime expressions and terms, see the helpful infographic below.
Along with these words, make sure you learn appropriate Japanese etiquette for meal times. Try using these words when you go out to eat or sit down for a meal with family and friends. Consistent practice with a private Japanese tutor will also help you improve your speaking skills!