After dinner (about two hours ago) I was talking with a prospective Shinto priestess, and she explained something that I had been wondering about: their chants at lunch.
On most days, we have lunch in the Kogakkan University cafeteria. At the time we usually we arrive, the staff is setting tables in a certain part of the room — all with identical dishes, while everyone else (including us) goes to the counter to order their food. A little after, students and teachers from the Shinto School arrive in their traditional white garments, and sit down at the prepared tables. Before eating, they do some kind of chant, and after eating another, although I rarely heard the latter one, because with the timing of our classes we usually leave before they’re done. I had guessed that these chants are some kind of Shinto equivalent of saying grace, but that was about it. This evening, however, I got an explanation.
Both chants are indeed expressions of thanks for the food. The one before eating is to Amaterasu-omikami, the sun goddess worshiped at Naiku. The chant after eating is to Toyouke-no-omikami, the goddess responsible for preparing food for Amaterasu-omikami and of agriculture and food in general. All English sources I’ve seen until now emphasize the general part, but the Japanese around here usually mention the “food for Amaterasu-omikami” first. Either way, Toyouke-no-omikami is worshiped at the Geku (the second major shrine of Ise Jingu), which we’re scheduled to visit the day after tomorrow.
The prospective priestess I talked to also mentioned something about their table customs that I hadn’t noticed: They don’t talk while eating. If I understood her explanation correctly, the purpose of that is to not distract each other from the food, out of respect for the deities who gave it.