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How to use chopsticks in Japan

by LesterGoh
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The traditional Japanese utensil of choice.

Chopsticks are synonymous with East Asian Cuisine, first originating in China and spreading to other countries such as Japan and Korea by 500A.D. In Japan, chopsticks are used for any meal from rice bowls to barbecues and can be found in nearly every restaurant and home in the country.

If you’re planning to eat Japanese food, I recommend learning to wield chopsticks correctly so that you can truly enjoy the delicious meal in front of you, and also immerse yourself fully in the Japanese cultural experience enjoying a meal using chopsticks!

Read on for a step-by-step guide on utilizing chopsticks and proper chopstick dining etiquette in Japan. We hope that this article can be your first step into the beautiful and fascinating world of Japanese tableware and dining culture.

Holding the chopsticks : step-by-step guide

1) Hold out your open dominant hand.

2) Rest the first chopstick in the nook between your thumb and index finger.
The point of contact should be at least 3/4 way up the chopstick.

3) Curl your ring and little fingers slightly such that the first chopstick can rest on the first knuckle of your bent ring finger. The chopstick should be well balanced. It will stay in this position as you eat.

4) Now grip the second chopstick with your thumb and index finger, as if lightly pinching. The point of contact should be 2/3 – 3/4 way up the chopstick.

5) The second chopstick will rest on the first knuckle of your middle finger. If done right, the thumb, index and middle fingers should naturally be close together.

6) Move the second chopstick with your thumb, index and middle fingers up and down. Keep the first chopstick steady and immobile. Try opening and closing the pointed ends of the chopsticks.

7) Now clasp a piece of food with the chopsticks and try to lift it to your mouth. It may take some practice to get the right amount of force to keep the piece of food between your chopsticks, but keep at it!

Etiquette when dining with chopsticks

Now that you have learnt how to hold the chopsticks and use them to bring food to your mouth; here’s a simple but critical list of things not to do with them. Some may seem trivial, but observing the proper dining etiquette will certainly help you impress your appreciative Japanese friends.

1) Do not leave chopsticks sticking straight out from a bowl
Chopsticks are left sticking out vertically only from bowls of rice placed as offering for deceased relatives at funeral or their altars. To do so at the dining table is thus insulting your family or friends as dead, and is the biggest taboo on this list. Instead, rest your chopsticks on the chopstick rest if available, or horizontally across (on) the bowl.

2) Do not pass food from chopstick to chopstick.
In Japan, there is a ceremonial custom of passing a loved one’s cremated bones down a chain of family members and finally into the cremation urn using chopsticks. Passing food from chopstick to chopstick evokes the same image and is another big taboo in Japan. Please place the food you wish to share on a small plate and pass on the plate instead.

3) Do not stab food using chopsticks.
A oft-committed mistake by people still unused to using chopsticks, it is considered ill-mannered to stab your food instead of grasping the piece as intended. Some Japanese do occasionally commit this mistake as well, but it is considered impolite, so please do not follow and stab your food.

4) Do not use your chopsticks to shift tableware.
Using your chopsticks to hook and then move bowls or plates is considered rude, and does in practice cause problems from unpleasant sounds from the dragging or creating a mess while spilling the contents of the tableware.

5) Do not point at people or objects with chopsticks.
It is considered rude in Japan to point at people (with your finger) in Japan, and even more so with your chopsticks at the dining table. In addition, do not point at other objects (even food) with chopsticks as well. If you would like to point to an object at the dining table, lay down your chopsticks and gesture using your hands.

Conclusion

It takes some time to learn how to use chopsticks, but we believe that the process of learning how to use chopsticks is also an experience of enjoying Japanese culture and food. However, it does not mean that you should follow the Japanese culture completely, but it might be nice to find your own way to enjoy it by integrating it into your background and lifestyle.

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