Japanese Culture 3 - Chopstick Manners

Chopstick manners are part of Japanese culture.

It will also be useful for understanding Japan (cross-cultural) exchanges with people from countries and regions that do not have a "chopstick-using culture" on overseas business trips or when studying abroad. Also, for those who are coming to Japan for sightseeing or to work for a Japanese company and live in Japan, it is useful to learn how to hold chopsticks before coming to Japan. So, here is how to hold them.


The First Story of Chopsticks

It was much later that the present form, a pair of chopsticks, was adopted. Chopsticks were used in rituals and ceremonies to serve food to the gods, not to bring food to people's mouths. Chopsticks were made of a single piece of bamboo bent at the center, similar to the tongs or "tongs made of bamboo" that we use today as cooking utensils.



When did people start using chopsticks in Japan?

There is a theory (there are many theories) that the use of chopsticks in Japan began when the Sui Dynasty envoys (600-618) brought chopsticks back to Japan.

In the past, only people of high rank used chopsticks, but from around the Heian period (794-1185), the general public also began to use chopsticks (various theories exist).



What Japanese chopsticks can do

The chopstick tips of Japanese chopsticks are unparalleled in other countries for their thinness and delicate sharpening, allowing the chopsticks to be used for a variety of tasks.

The chopstick tips of Chinese food are thicker than you might imagine, and the silver chopsticks of Korean food are slippery, so even Japanese people with a chopstick culture must have felt a bit intimidated.


Chopsticks can be used to pick up food, pinch with chopsticks, press down, scoop small grains of rice with chopsticks, place on the tip of chopsticks, skin a fish, peel off, support when removing bones, roll, cut (tear), carry on a bowl (rice bowl), mix, and more.


It seems to me that the delicacy (fineness) of the chopstick tips and the way the chopsticks are held have a lot to do with the smoothness of the many tasks, more than 10, that are performed with chopsticks.


Japanese Culture Chopstick Manners How to Hold Chopsticks (Hashi)


Hold a chopstick as if you were holding a pencil.




Insert another chopstick (hashi) from below.



Be careful not to drop your chopsticks .


Close the chopstick tips.



Spread your chopsticks wide.



Close the chopstick tips.



Once again, spread the chopsticks wide.


Practice writing the letter " I " with your chopsticks as many times as you can.


Once you can do this, you can actually use chopsticks. 







How to split disposable chopsticks


Hold the splittable chopsticks to the side and pull them up and down. 





Holding the splittable chopsticks vertically and pulling to the right and left is not acceptable.


This is a bad example. The reason for this is that if you pull to the left or right (sideways), you may bump into the person next to you.


Japanese culture of eating with a bowl in hand

In Japan, it is customary to hold a bowl of rice, a bowl of soup, and a small plate in the hand when eating.


There is a theory that this is because in the past, it was the custom in Japan to use hakozen.Hakozen is lower in height than zataku (e.g., chabudai), so it naturally involves lifting the tableware.


Let us compare with neighboring countries.


In Korea, it is not customary to eat with eating utensils in one’s hands. They eat with the dishes left on the table. They eat with silver bowls, silver chopsticks, and silver spoons.


A Korean visitor to Japan told me that eating with eating utensils in one’s hands in Korea is not allowed because they are too hot due to the material of the utensils and it is also against manners.

Also, the way of sitting during meals was different from that in Japan: "We do not sit on our haunches.” There is also a unique Korean culture in the way of sitting. When eating at a zataku (a table, not a chair), women sit on their knees with one leg erect, and the other leg in an awkward position. The reason for this is so that they can stand up quickly during the meal to prepare more food or drink for their husbands or family members.


I asked if Chinese people also have a culture of eating with a bowl in their hands. After all, they do not have the custom of eating with eating utensils in their hands. From the point of view of Japanese who are accustomed to seeing chopsticks in Japan, people in the Chinese-speaking countries eat with surprisingly long chopsticks and bricks. They eat with the dishes on the table.


It is easy to understand why chopsticks are longer in the Chinese-speaking world. Because of the custom of eating a large platter of food on a large table with many people, long chopsticks are more rational than short ones like in Japan.

In the past, there was a person who said, "Chinese food is not Chinese food unless you eat it while talking with a lot of people!" 


There was no culture of using spoons or renge (ceramic Chinese-style spoon) in Japan.


When considering not only Korea and the Chinese sphere, but also Western countries, Japanese food culture differs greatly from that of other countries in some respects.

In Japan, people do not have the custom of scooping soup from their own bowls with a spoon, saji, or renge. 


In Japanese food culture and dining etiquette, the soup bowl is lifted up and the soup is drunk with the mouth directly in the bowl.

The use of spork (spoon & folk) in school lunches has led to the habit of "dog-eating" (putting down the bowl and eating with the mouth close to it) among children and students, which has become a problem. Except in a few cases, most schools are now replacing school lunches with Japanese chopstick culture.

*Some schools serve spoons when curry/stew is served.


 We would like to pass on the Japanese chopstick culture to the next generation, including children in Japan, and at the same time, we would like people in neighboring countries with chopstick culture to know the beauty of Japanese chopsticks, the care that goes into using chopsticks, and the convenience of chopsticks. I believe that if we can gather around the table with mutual understanding and respect for not only Japanese dining etiquette and chopstick manners, but also for the chopstick cultures and dining manners of other countries, we can surely enjoy a pleasant time together.



We hope that through Japanese chopstick etiquette and dining etiquette, you will deepen your understanding of Japan.