Guest writer: Urusai_Uni#0007
When you think of eating utensils, what comes to your mind first? If you’re like me, then probably a fork or maybe a spoon. In most of East Asia however, chopsticks have been the go to eating utensil for thousands of years! Read on to learn more about chopsticks and how they’re used in Japan!
What are Chopsticks?
Chopsticks, or Hashi in Japanese, are at their most basic, pairs of sticks. Oftentimes they are tapered and come in a variety of materials. The most common kind you’ll find are made of wood or bamboo and are often lacquered. Nowadays they also often come in plastic, leading to a wide variety of colors and patterns being printed on them! Stainless steel chopsticks, which mainly are used and exported from Korea, are also a popular choice because of their durability and easy cleaning. (These are my personal favorites at the moment!)
Japan also has Ryoribashi, extra long chopsticks used for cooking that are typically 30cm (one foot!) or longer!
How to Use
Just like pencils, grips on chopsticks come in a variety of shapes. However, there is one grip that is generally considered the most efficient. In this grip, the top chopstick is pinched between the thumb and pointer finger and rests on the middle finger. The bottom chopstick remains stationary while resting on the ring finger and at the junction between the thumb and pointer. All of the motion comes from the top chopstick in this case.
Chopsticks take a lot of practice to master, but there’s plenty of ways to help you practice! These range from training chopsticks that are connected at the top all the way to simply wrapping a rubber band around the top of the chopstick to keep them together.
1. Don’t point.
Pointing in general is rude but so is pointing with your chopsticks! (This is also true for most eating utensils.) In this same vein, don’t wave your chopsticks around when talking as this is also considered rude. (This is going to be a reoccurring theme.)
2. Don’t cross chopsticks.
This is a rule that also applies when using a fork and knife. Crossing those on a plate indicates that the meal was bad. In China, crossing chopsticks is a symbol of death but in Japan it’s generally considered rude and/or bad luck. Set them down side by side next to your bowl, either on a chopstick rest or on the piece of paper that comes with your disposable chopsticks.
3. Don’t rub chopsticks together.
Speaking of disposable chopsticks, a common practice is to rub them together to remove splinters. This is actually incredibly rude. Rubbing them together implies that the restaurant is cheap/low quality and so are their chopsticks. If you really have to, hold them under the table.
4. Don’t stab chopsticks into rice.
Oftentimes people will stab their chopsticks sticking straight up into their bowl of rice. In Japan, this is a big no! This is because sticking the chopsticks into rice like this is part of Japanese funeral rituals and incite bad luck in normal meals.
5.Don’t pass food between chopsticks.
Also related to funerals, food shouldn’t be passed between chopsticks and two pairs of chopsticks in use shouldn’t touch each other. This is because in funeral rituals, the bones of the cremated deceased are passed in this manner. If you need to share, set the food down for the other person to take or move the plate closer to them.
While it may seem daunting, chopsticks are easy with practice and fun to use! There’s plenty of rules that go with them but the same can be said for western utensils like forks. Start practicing now so you can be ready for your trip to Japan!
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