A Thankfulness Of Things
How a simple Japanese practice of being thankful for meals can teach us something about having more gratitude in the rest of our lives.
Here in Japan, before eating a meal, people say “Itadakimasu”. If you learn Japanese on the app Duolingo, you will see the phrase translated as “Let’s eat.” Sometimes that’s all it means. But in a way, it’s closer to saying grace. It’s a recognition of the effort that went into making the meal possible; of the people who worked to provide and prepare the food, of the plants and animals whose lives went into feeding us. It’s an expression of humility, gratitude and thankfulness. It acknowledges the long chain of efforts, sacrifices, innovations, traditions, and burdens that make every meal possible.
I’ve never lived in North America, so Thanksgiving is a bit of a mystery to me.
It’s not a global holiday. And it certainly doesn’t capture people’s imaginations, like other more aesthetically vibrant festivities, such as Halloween, Chinese New Year, or Diwali. But the idea of a holiday themed around being thankful is still appealing. This is part of other holidays around the world, too.
While people are celebrating Thanksgiving in the US right now, it is Labour Thanksgiving day here in Japan. A holiday to thank people for the work they do. In other parts of the world, a thank-you is a part of holidays and special days as well. Mother’s Day and Father’s day are ways of saying thank you to our parents, for example.
Stopping to reflect on these days has value. Especially if it helps us understand how much we take for granted in our lives. But wouldn’t it be better if this self-reflection were part of our daily existence? If we didn’t so often take things for granted?
Itadakimasu is a way of being in the world; a small way to pause and be thankful for food. To let our minds wander over the vast journeys our food has made from farm and sea to table. And all the hands along the way that worked for our enjoyment of this food.
It can be used for receiving other things as well. Like the humble gratitude of receiving a gift.
So often we are impatient with the things in our lives. We expect them always to work perfectly. We take offence when they don’t. But what if we said thanks before using them? Like saying grace before a meal?
Would that change our relationship to the tools, devices, gadgets, and appliances in our lives? Would it also, in turn, change us?
It’s tempting to think of computers, for example, as the tools of the modern worker. But do we respect those tools the way a master craftsperson does?
We don’t. The habits of daily sharpening or maintenance are foreign, too. To say nothing of actually making our own tools.
Some of these things we use every day may as well be made by magic. Shouldn’t we be grateful for that? For the thousands of hearts and minds, and hands and hours, that made it possible for these words to flow from my fingers to the screen you’re reading right now.
It’s amazing, isn’t it?
So, the next time you turn something on, be it your computer, or smartphone, or TV, or some other gadget, pause for a moment. Imagine all the people who made it possible for that thing to be in your life, making it better. And say a little thank-you, before going on with your day.