Knowing how to hold chopsticks is half the battle. The other half is learning how to use chopsticks around the Japanese dinner table. Here are some of the most important rules to follow when using Japanese chopsticks.
- Do not leave chopsticks in bowls of rice, sticking straight up. This resembles the incense sticks usually left as offerings to the dead at family graves.
- Do not use your chopsticks to stab at or spear food.
- Do not play with your chopsticks, wave them around in the air, or use them to point at people.
- Do not bite your chopsticks.
- Hold your chopsticks towards their end. Do not hold near the tips or in the middle. This is to keep your hands as far away from the food as possible.
- When you are not eating, place your chopsticks together and lay them down in front of you/your plate, with the tops pointing to the left and resting on a chopstick holder.
- Do not pass food with your chopsticks directly to another person’s chopsticks. This is a practice that is only ever done during funerals, where a recently deceased person’s cremated bones are passed from person to person with chopsticks. As such, to pass around food at the dinner table in a similar way is particularly disrespectful.
- Do not move plates or bowls around with chopsticks.
To the uninitiated, using Japanese chopsticks (or any chopsticks) can seem like a daunting task. However, it is easier than it looks. Follow these simple instructions, get in a little practice and you will soon be using chopsticks like a native.
Step 1: Hold out your dominant hand out straight with your thumb facing upwards, as though you are going to shake hands with somebody. Insert one of your chopsticks (the lower chopstick) in the space between your thumb and the rest of your hand, with the tip facing toward the middle.
Step 2: Bend your ring finger and your pinkie finger down, and tuck your ring finger underneath the lower chopstick. The chopstick should now be held firmly in place by your thumb and ring fingers - unable to move.
Step 3: Hold the other chopstick (the upper chopstick) between the tips of your thumb and forefinger. Bring your middle finger underneath the chopstick, and let the chopstick settle between your thumb, forefinger, and middle finger. You might notice that this hold is identical to a standard pencil grip.
Step 4: Move the upper chopstick up and down to grip food.
Japanese chopsticks are the finest and most authentic way to dine on Japanese cuisine. Whether you spell them ‘chopsticks,’ ‘chop sticks,’ or ‘chopstix;’ chopsticks are used by the Japanese to eat just about everything, including rice, noodles, and even soup.
Japan is not the only country that uses chopsticks. Nearby countries like China and Korea have their own versions of this humble eating utensil. Furthermore, with popular East Asian cuisines now being enjoyed all over the world, knowing how to use Japanese chopsticks has become more necessary than ever. To fully master this important skill requires learning not just how to hold chopsticks, but also the rules of Japanese chopsticks etiquette.
Continue reading to find out more about the world of Japanese chopsticks. If you are hoping to buy chopsticks, be sure to also take a look at japancentre.com’s Chopsticks & Cutlery section for the best range of Japanese chopsticks UK-wide.
It is believed that chopsticks have been in use for around 5000 years. Originally from China, their use had spread to Japan and Korea by the year 500 A.D. Nowadays chopsticks from these three countries have all evolved into having different characteristics.
Japan took the comparatively simple concept of chopsticks and developed it, inventing chopsticks of different specifications for different purposes. A standard pair of Japanese chopsticks is between 20-23cm in length and is made of wood or plastic, with grooves along the tapered tips to prevent food from sliding, as well as intricate designs on the thicker end.
Bento Chopsticks: Made of lacquered bamboo or plastic and measuring between 17-20cm; these chopsticks are designed to be carried around in a bag or purse and are used for eating bento lunch boxes. They normally come with their own chopstick case.
Cooking Chopsticks: Measuring approximately 33cm in length, these long chopsticks are normally made of bamboo and designed to be used for cooking. The extra length enables the user to stir pots of stew or turn fish fillets and cutlets without the risk of burning their hands. Like standard chopsticks, cooking chopsticks have tapered tips with non-slip grooves along the cooking end, and colourful patterns along the holding end.
Since China was the first country to use chopsticks, it would be fair to say that Chinese chopsticks are as close to ‘original’ chopsticks as it is possible to get. Compared to Korean and Japanese chopsticks, Chinese chopsticks are relatively thick and long (averaging between 25-27cm), do not taper so much at the ends, and are either rounded or rectangular in shape. Household chopsticks are normally made of wood (particularly lacquered bamboo), while restaurant chopsticks are more often than not made of melamine plastic. The extra length of Chinese chopsticks makes them ideal for grabbing food for oneself from a selection of foods at a large table, as is typical in Chinese cuisine.
The most noticeable difference between Korean chopsticks and chopsticks from other countries is that Korean chopsticks tend to be made of metal (normally stainless steel) and are used in conjunction with a matching metal spoon. Originally metal chopsticks were made of bronze or silver, and the king was the only person who got to use pure silver chopsticks, as these would change colour when they touched poisoned food. Korean chopsticks are normally between 20-23cm in length with a flat, rectangular shape and roughened ends to prevent them from being too slippery.