Here’s everything you need to know about using chopsticks in Japan. Here’s a quick guide on Japan’s technique of holding and eating with chopsticks.
For centuries the Japanese have been using chopsticks to serve and eat their food. It has become a part of their culture and traditions. They come in a variety of designs, materials, and colours.
I’ve always been fascinated by how the Japanese skillfully eat rice and other tricky foods with chopsticks. So of course I have to teach myself to do the same. So many tries and ruined outfits late, let me be honest with you. It takes some serious practice to get used to using these slender sticks to put food into your mouth without feeding your clothes in the process.
I understand how tricky using chopsticks can be. So I have put together this guide on to using chopsticks in Japan.
Using Chopsticks In Japan
A Brief History on Chopsticks
Many experts state that chopsticks came into existence in China, many centuries ago. Over time, the use of chopsticks spread to many Asian countries, including Japan, Korea, and Nepal.
In Japan, chopsticks are called ‘hashi’, which sounds similar to the Japanese word for bridge. In a way, you can say that chopsticks act as a bridge in many different traditions and rituals.
In the olden days, in Japanese traditions, chopsticks were often used to share food with the gods. Chopsticks used for rituals have tapered ends on both sides. It is believed that when these were used to eat the offered food, gods and men feast together.
It was also believed that if the chopsticks were first offered to a deity, the deity would inhabit the chopsticks. These tapered chopsticks are still seen on important occasions like New Year.
Chopsticks in Japan are shorter than compared to those in China and Korea. This makes it easier to handle food, especially when picking out bones.
Using chopsticks in food preparation and dining is a huge part of Japanese culture. The Japanese are proud of their culture and one way of getting acquainted with locals on your trip to Japan is getting involved in the culture.
How to Use Chopsticks in Japan
Eating with chopsticks is truly an art. And like every art form, it needs to be mastered. The Japanese use chopsticks for pretty much every kind of food. Using chopsticks in Japan is very simple, check the step-by-step guide below.
Whether it’s noodles, vegetables, meat, or even rice, chopsticks are used in Japan.
So if you want to impress your Japanese friends or are traveling to Japan, here is a take on using chopsticks in Japan.
Step 1: Take one chopstick and hold it a third of the way down using your thumb and pointer finger. Use your middle finger to support it from underneath. It is almost like holding a pencil lightly. Trying to move the chopstick. You should be able to move it up and down.
Step 2: Take the second chopstick and rest it in the bent formed between the thumb and pointer. This stick should be supported by the base of the thumb and ring finger.
Step 3: Once you have got the hang of how to hold the chopsticks, try moving them. The trick is to move only the first chopstick by moving your pointer and middle finger. If you have held them properly, the chopsticks will open and close.
Different Types of Chopsticks in Japan
Chopsticks are made from a number of different materials and in different sizes. It is not uncommon to find chopsticks with interesting patterns on them as well.
Chopsticks come in a different sizes to suit the user. Usually, chopsticks meant for women and children are shorter in length.
Many different materials are used to make chopsticks. They are traditionally made of bamboo or wood. Lacquered chopsticks are called nuribashi in Japanese. They come in many types depending on the lacquer used to gloss them and their place of manufacture.
Japan is the only place to use natural lacquer to decorate chopsticks. Traditional chopsticks are produced in Obama, Japan. They come in different colors and the mother of pearl and eggshells are often used to make them waterproof and prolong their life.
Edo Kibashi chopsticks are made of high-grade wood, including maple, ebony, and red sandalwood. They have pentagonal, hexagonal, or octagonal cross-sections and have rounded tips to prevent any damage to utensils.
Chopsticks that are used for cooking are often longer and are called ryoribashi. The chopsticks used to serve the food are called saibashi.
Disposable chopsticks or waribashi are a more recent trend. They are made from scrap wood and these are often found in supermarkets, restaurants, and with takeout.
Training chopsticks are a gift to anyone trying to learn to ise chopsticks. These little contraptions come attached at one end and some even have rings for you to put your fingers through. Yes, they are meant for kids, but they are a great way to learn!
More modern styles for chopsticks include chopsticks made from crystals, plastic, and metal. They also come with designs like cartoons for kids, seasonal flowers, geometric patterns and more. You can also get customized chopsticks with names carved into them.
Etiquette to Follow While Using Chopsticks in Japan
Believe it or not, there is more to eating with chopsticks than just learning to hold them right. The Japanese are known for being extremely polite and mannerful. This trait is extended to their dining as well.
They may forgive you on the grounds that you are a foreigner and are not aware of their table manners. But it is always good to respect their traditions and be mannerful.
Here are some etiquette tips for you to remember the next time you use chopsticks:
- It is not uncommon outside Japan, for diners to rub chopsticks together at restaurants. This is dont to eliminate any splinters and while this is acceptable outside, in Japan, this is considered to be disrespectful.
- Do not use your chopsticks like a fork and poke your food. Most of us are guilty of doing this at some point so this is perhaps the most important point to remember.
- Many foreigners stick their chopsticks into their food when taking a break from eating. But this is big no no. Especially sticking chopsticks into rice because this is done as part of a funeral ritual when food is placed on the altar.
- Do not rest your chopsticks on the edge of your bowl or plate. This is taboo in Japan. Instead rest them on the chopstick holder or put them back into thei wrapper if they are disposable chopsticks.
- Pulling food bowls and dishes towards you with chopsticks is also not okay.
- Do not hover over food dishes with your chopsticks, trying to look what you like best. This is considered greedy and is not acceptable.
- Sharing food is a lovely thing. But using one set of chopsticks to pass food to another set of chopsticks is also taboo. This is another ritual associated with death, where bones of the deceased are passed in this way at Japanese funerals.
- Do not use your chopsticks to drum. Your inner drummer may be tempted because they look like miniature drumsticks, but don’t.
- Do not cross your chopsticks. In China, this is a representation of death, but in Japan, in general, this is considered to be bad manners.
- Do not twirl your chopsticks. This is a basic table manner and holds good even in Japan.
- It is considered mannerless to lick food off of your chopstick.
- If you are eating a soupy dish, do not let soup or any liquid drip off the tips of your chopsticks.
- You may think it is sassy, but using your chopsticks to point at someone is not allowed.
- If you have to tear a piece of food, exert controlled pressure on your chopsticks so that food doesn’t start flying around.
- It is an acceptable practice to pick up food and take a bite out of it.
Guide to Using Chopsticks in Japan: FAQs:
Should you break your chopsticks apart?
Usually, chopsticks come fused together and should be broken apart in the middle. To avoid knocking anything on the table, take the chopsticks to your knees before breaking them apart.
Do you eat rice with chopsticks?
Japanese rice is usually short grain and is eaten with chopsticks. However, some dishes like a fried rice where the grains separate, are eaten with short spoons.
If you are left-handed, is it okay to use a chopstick with your left hand?
Yes, it is okay to use chopsticks with your left hand. But it is important to keep in mind that sitting next to a right-handed person when using your left hand can cause clashes.
What material are chopsticks made of?
Chopsticks come in a variety of materials. The most common is bamboo. Besides this, chopsticks are also made of porcelain, metal, jade, and bone.
What do chopsticks symbolize for the Japanese?
In earlier times, the Japanese believed that chopsticks acted as a bridge between our realm and the divine. Chopsticks were used to “share” food with the gods. It was believed that when the chopsticks were first offered to a deity or god, that deity would get into that pair of chopsticks.
Hope you’ve read through our article and gotten useful information on using chopsticks in Japan.