Chopsticks are a staple of Japanese culture. Imagine Asian culture without chopsticks… it’s inconceivable, almost sinful. Today, many people from all over the world use chopsticks, however, some people still don’t know how to use them. That is why in this article, we will cover how to use chopsticks in Japan.
In Japanese early history, chopsticks were believed to be a bridge between the heavens and the earth. They were a symbol of divine presence amongst men. Thankfully, over time chopsticks went from being a holy symbol to daily eating utensils most commonly used for eating ramen or sushi.
This may come as a shocker but Japanese chopsticks ARE NOT the same as Chinese or Korean chopsticks. They are the shortest in this category and tend to taper down to a pointy end. That being said, here are the different types of Japanese chopsticks;
These chopsticks are manufactured to be disposable after use, but they are not low quality. They are made using trees like bamboo. The wood is unbleached, and no fungicides are added, so the chopsticks would produce a very natural and relaxing aroma. You’d find these types of chopsticks in most restaurants in Japan.
These are portable chopsticks you can carry in your pocket for convenience, hence the name poke-bashi. These chopsticks are made from fire-resistant steel and are lightweight, so you don’t have to worry about them. Pokebashi have an advantage over waribashi because they can be used over and over again.
Saibashi is used akin to thongs in Japanese kitchens - cooking thongs. They are typically 7 centimeters longer than average chopsticks and slightly thicker too. They are incredibly easy to use, and one might find them more versatile than many other utensils in the kitchen when it comes to picking up hot foods. Outside of their practicality, they are such elegant utensils that they make for aesthetically pleasing additions to any kitchen.
These are quality stainless chopsticks with wooden handles. These chopsticks are used specifically to serve food on another plate, not for eating. As a result, they are longer than, say, pokebashi or hashi.
Just like how Japanese chopsticks are different, there are also different bowls used for ramen in Japan. Click here to read our Japanese bowl article.
Most people who aren’t Japanese are used to eating their food with other cutleries. One could get by eating Japanese noodles with a fork, but sometimes that attitude just won’t fly. Here are steps to picking up some basic chopsticks skills;
That’s about it. It might seem more daunting at first glance but using chopsticks is rather an easy affair, practice a little bit, and you’ll become a chopsticks-wielding sensei in no time at all.
As for whether it is rude not to use chopsticks in Japan, the answer is no. In fact, there are other foods in Japan that you eat with a spoon, so it’s not as though the only cutlery that exists in the country is chopsticks. However most people use chopsticks for ramen, check out this article for the ultimate guide for Japanese ramen.
There are many etiquettes involved in eating with chopsticks, some of them might be unknown to most people, and if you find yourself in an unfamiliar setting, it is advisable to avoid chopsticks until you are sure of all the nuances involved with the setting. However, if you are curious about these etiquettes, here are a few of them;
Most people notice that the Japanese folk have a specific way of placing their chopsticks on the bowl. In most cases, chopsticks are placed horizontally on the bowl and not vertically. Standing your chopsticks in the bowl is a tradition done by the Japanese to honor the dead at a funeral; doing this while eating with a friend or amidst colleagues at work can be considered rude, and it is believed to bring bad luck.
There’s something special about eating food with chopsticks, and it adds a uniquely Asian feeling, coupled with the smell and texture of the wood. You can practice alone to master the proper ways to use the chopsticks, so you don’t fumble them in public, and you’re good to go.
If you are just a little obsessed with Japanese culture, you're in luck. Here at ZenPop Japan, we offer ramen packs that can give you a taste of Japan.
This article was originally written by our freelance writer Umm-Kulthum Abdulkareem and edited by us.