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Chopsticks in the Japanese Way: History and Etiquette

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/11 Traditional Culture , , , , ,

eating utensils
Lohb’s photo in Flickr

Can you eat using your bare hands? Or you need spoon and fork? Or perhaps a knife? Well for me, sometimes I do prefer eating using my hands and I am lucky there is no issue with it in our country. We used to eat using spoon and fork but oftentimes I find it more satisfying to eat my food with my hands. That is also the reason that my first few encounters with chopsticks were a challenge for me. Why would I try so hard in picking my food using a pair of sticks when I can use my hands? The fact that I am in another country and trying to blend with their culture is very hard for me. Well if not for the chopsticks it could have been less difficult. I just had to get used to it though. After five or six tries, at least I succeeded in picking some rice from my bowl. But I don’t think I did it the right way. So where does the usage of this eating utensil originated by the way?

Brief History

Chopsticks originally started in China. It was formerly used as a cooking tool and not eating utensils. Shortly after China’s population started to grow bigger, people tried to promote cost-effective ways of living and Confucius, a vegetarian, believed that a presence of any sharp object in the dining table brings up violence. So these became the reasons for people to use chopsticks to eat their food prepared by cooks into bite-sized portions to equally distribute their supplies to everybody. Later on, this culture had spread to other Asian countries like Korea and Japan.

Japan’s Chopsticks

Long time ago in Japan, the wealthy people had their chopsticks made out of precious elements such as jade, silver and some valuable types of wood. Up to this day, Japanese people use o-hashi (chopsticks) as their main eating utensils. Chopsticks used in Japanese homes are usually wooden type and is coated in lacquer. There are cheap and disposable types that are made of bamboo which are used in some restaurants. Many versions of chopsticks are also sold in some stores in Japan that comes with varying designs and colors marketed mainly for kids. Even at a very young age, Japanese are already taught with the right usage of chopsticks. Children in schools are trained and guided with their eating manners.

Japanese are very particular with their way of using their o-hashi and if you’re not careful, you may commit few mistakes. They will surely understand and won’t mind it since you’re not aware of their culture but considering some of it could be a way to gain their trust and confidence.

Chopsticks’ Usage Taboos

One thing to avoid when eating is passing your food from one chopsticks to another (hashi-watashi) and never try to stick your chopsticks to your bowl of rice (tate-bashi). In funerals, some practices are similar to these so they find it bad fortune. Another is licking the tip of your chopsticks(neburi-bashi) or shoveling food from the bowl to your mouth(kaki-bashi). These are considered bad manners. Also, pointing your chopsticks to other people is very impolite for the Japanese. I only mentioned a few and the most common mistakes one could make. So before you go to Japan, don’t forget to bring with you these brief guidelines for chopsticks’ usage to prevent yourself from committing major faux pas.

hotokebashi

Tatebashi/Hotokebashi. Sticking the chopsticks in the bowl of rice.

neburibashi

Neburibashi. Licking the chopsticks.

hashi-watashi

Hashi-watashi. Passing food from chopsticks to chopsticks.

Do you know the other don’ts in using Japanese chopsticks? You may add it in the comments below.

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