Japanese Chopstick Etiquette: A Comprehensive Guide
The Japanese chopstick etiquette plays a huge part in the charming culture of the country. It’s essential in their everyday life that practically every person in Japan owns a pair. They use it for anything, be it meat, rice, noodles, salads, and even cooking.
The world views Japan as a nation with an intricate code of etiquette. Using chopsticks is no exception—there are certain rules to go by. If you’re planning to visit the country or simply want to learn how to use these utensils, here’s a quick rundown of the essentials!
Firstly, holding the chopsticks properly is one of the first things you must learn:
- Pick up the first chopstick and place it between your ring finger and the base of your thumb. This position should hold the chopstick steadily.
- Holding it like a pencil, put the second chopstick in between your first and second finger, with the tip of your thumb stabilizing it.
- Keep the first chopstick in place and move the second one up and down to pick up food.
People make the common mistake of holding the chopsticks in the middle. However, it’s ideal to grip it around 2/3 from the tip. This position allows you better control over what you pick up.
You can practice on bite-sized food on your first few tries. Then, you can move on to round items, then finally challenge yourself to a grain of rice. If you’re able to pick up soft tofu without it breaking apart, you’ve finally learned the trick!
Japanese chopstick etiquette: the basics
Politeness is a prized trait in Japan, and it’s evident even in the way they handle chopsticks. If you commit a few mistakes, you’ll likely be forgiven for them. However, practicing how to use chopsticks properly is a great way of showing respect to their culture.
Eating with chopsticks is not easy but it’s rewarding to pick up this skill. Here are some of the simple rules to observe when mastering the art of using chopsticks.
Things you shouldn’t ever forget
When you start practicing Japanese chopstick etiquette, the following are pointers that you must not, at any time, forget. You might get more than a frown when a Japanese sees you breaking these rules!
Don’t stick the chopstick upright in the food
Sticking chopsticks into rice or any bowl of food may seem an obvious way to hold them in place. However, it’s absolute disrespect to the Japanese culture! Tate-Bashi or sticking the chopstick vertically is a funerary ritual. The pair signifies an incense placed upright in the food as an offering to the dead.
You should avoid this practice since it reminds the Japanese people of their dear departed. Instead, try to use chopstick holders or place them uncrossed on the plate or bowl.
Don’t leave the chopsticks crossed on the table
How you place down your chopsticks when not in use may have a meaning. Crossing your chopsticks on top of a bowl when you’re not done eating yet is considered rude in Japan. While the country does not associate it with death, it’s still reminiscent of the deceased.
Restaurants often provide a chopstick holder, so you can use it to rest your chopsticks neatly. Remember to place them parallel to each other during mealtimes.
Never stab food with your chopstick
Doesn’t it seem logical to spear your food with the chopstick tip? However, that’s one of the rudest table manners that contradict Japanese chopstick etiquette. Stabbing your food with one or both chopsticks is impolite in their culture.
Also, using a chopstick at a time is viewed as disrespectful. The pair always comes together, much like tongs or tweezers, and not a skewer.
No passing of food between two pairs of chopsticks
In most Western practices, passing food from your spoon to another is normal. However, you cannot do the same when using chopsticks. A part of Japan’s funeral rituals includes passing the bones of the deceased from chopstick to chopstick. Therefore, imitating the same action when sharing food brings an unsavory reminder for the Japanese.
If you want someone to try your food, you can place it directly on their plate. It’s a polite way of sharing food.
Things you shouldn’t do but probably won’t get reprimanded for
Don’t rub chopsticks together
You might have seen somebody on TV rubbing chopsticks together as they’re about to eat. It’s the usual case with waribashi or disposable chopsticks that need to be broken apart. You should know that it’s not the Japanese way of doing things.
When you rub chopsticks, you are indirectly saying that they’re cheap. The host may then take it as a form of insult.
Refrain from playing with chopsticks
The Japanese teach their young the art of chopsticks at an early age that you’ll never see them play with them on the table. Doing so makes you look childish and would make people stare. You should also avoid tapping them against glasses or dishes (tataki-Bashi) because it’s impolite and silly-looking.
Don’t point using your chopsticks
Much like pointing a finger at somebody or something, pointing with your chopsticks is considered rude. The same goes for waving them in the air. It’s best to place them properly on the holder before you animatedly tell a story at the dining table.
Things that improve your chopsticks skills
Use chopstick rests (Hashi Oki)
Hashi-oki is a ceramic object that allows you to rest the tips of the chopsticks when you’re not using them. If the table setting has them, it’s a no-brainer to use them instead of placing your chopsticks on the bowl or plate.
Avoid dripping liquids from chopsticks
Liquid trickling from your chopsticks is unsightly and will earn a frown. It could soil your table or clothes. Also, don’t wash them on any liquid like soup or tea because it’s considered rude. If you have good Japanese chopstick etiquette, you’ll have a generally clean pair for the whole meal.
Don’t stir food around
Another unsightly practice the Japanese would rather not see at the table is someone stirring food around their plate or bowl. Of course, some foods are an exception, like the natto gohan, which needs to be mixed thoroughly.
The Japanese are a polite bunch and would understand how foreigners may not know every traditional practice of using chopsticks. However, having the know-how demonstrates your respect for them. It helps you earn plus points and learn more about the beautiful Japanese culture!