As anyone who's stayed in Japan knows, chopsticks are a part of Japanese culture that you've got to learn to love. Get the essential etiquette down with us!
Chopsticks are an indispensable facet of Japanese culinary culture, but not all Japanese have mastered their use. Here we will teach you how to master the use of chopsticks and surprise Japanese diners in the process!
According to one theory, chopsticks were imported to Japan from China during the time of the T'ang Dynasty, and then developed over centuries into the form we see today.
The Japanese “hashi” is also the same word used for a river-crossing bridge, and similar to “hashigo” which refers to a ladder reaching high places. The underlying concept is of two places being joined at once, with hashi first being used to hold offering to gods – connecting humans to the divine as a bridge would do.
The correct way to hold chopsticks can be tricky even for Japanese. There are special corrective pairs available to teach children how to hold them, and one can even spot the odd adult here and there who never picked up this skill.
To put it simply, the first chopstick should fit between your thumb and index finger, and rest at the height of your ring finger. In principle, this chopstick shouldn't move. The second chopstick is held more like a pen, somewhere between your thumb, index, and middle finger; and the pointed end is moved back and forth. In other words, only the second chopstick moves and this is a fundamental part of the skill.
Finally, let's look at the fundamental errors you should avoid when using chopsticks. Even some Japanese are guilty of these mistakes, so please let them know!
“That plate is a little far. If I could just bring it closer...” Please avoid using the chopsticks to move dishes around the table, or for anything other than picking up food!
Even if the chopsticks get a little dirty, dipping them noisily into soup (like your miso or suimono) is best avoided. If you must, wipe them off quickly with a napkin instead.
If you encounter a new dish, you may feel like investigating it a little with your chopsticks. However, this is considered bad form! Please remember that the chef made it with visual presentation in mind too.
Moving food from one pair of chopsticks to another is a distasteful sight at the dinner table. At Japanese funerals, there is a custom of passing ashes between two chopsticks, so repeating this action at the table is considered to bring bad fortune.
For shared dishes or pastries, a separate set of chopsticks is used to divide into individual portions. Not for your own plate, these chopsticks are just used for bigger shared dishes like a hotpot.
Chopsticks may carry various rules of etiquette, but we encourage you to pick them up and give them a try.