Where did itadakimasu come from?

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?

Even going back just to the early 1900s, the only examples I can find at Aozora Bunko (after admittedly non-exhaustive searching) are suspiciously conversational, rather than set-phrasid. For example, take this heartwarming passage from DAZAI Osamu's Student Beggar (乞食学生):

 少年は、急に顔を真赤にして、「君は? 食べないの?」と人が変ったようなおどおどした口調で言って、私の顔を覗(のぞ)き込む。
The old teahouse lady brought over a tray with a bowl of oyako donburi on it.
"How about you eat that?"
The boy's face went red. "What about you? Aren't you going to eat it?" he asked in an entirely different, much more timid tone, sneaking a glance at my face.
"I don't want it." I drank my bancha as naturally as I could and looked over at the forest beyond the pond.
"Itadakimasu," I heard the boy say in a quiet voice.
"Go ahead."

The more I look, the more likely it seems to me that itadakimasu as a set phrase uttered to no-one in particular (or/and therefore to god/s, in some accounts) appeared relatively recently, a fossilization of regular conversational uses of itadakimasu. In fact, there is still some overlap, like when someone says "You want some pizza?" and offers the open box, and you say "Itadakimasu," and reach for a slice.

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?

Incidentally, this post isn't intended as an attack on the custom of saying itadakimasu itself. Even if it was only five years old, I'd still be all in favor of it.

* 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.

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I've nothing useful to say about itadakimasu, or even about modern Japanese schools, but "early this century"? Um ... "early last century", I guess?


This century doesn't start until I say it does!

I don't think I'm ever going to get used to it.


It doesn't say when, but it does say it has something to do with the word itadaki, 頂, summit, which I didn't think of.



Thanks for the link! Yeah, etymologically, it comes from the idea of putting something on your head, from which it came to mean the head itself, and then the tops of things in general, IIRC. (I think the "ita" is supposed to be related to 至る but I don't know about the rest. 丈 maybe?)


This blog has a fifty-year minimum wait for political commentary.

Excellent. I should post that prominently on LH.


How about "ittekimasu," "itterashai," "tadaima," "okaeri," etc.?

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