The key to using chopsticks in Japan is to grip them correctly. With some practice, you can finally ditch the use of a spoon and fork and truly enjoy the way Japanese people eat their meals.
Using chopsticks is important, especially when you’re traveling to Japan. In both formal and informal dining settings, you need to use chopsticks. Sure, there’ll be restaurants that’ll give you a spoon and fork. But eating Western style will take away the authentic Japanese dining experience.
We know how hard it can be to hold chopsticks, especially for beginners. So we’ve prepared this guide to help you do it successfully and correctly. We will not only teach you the correct grip, but we will also give tips on Japan’s dining etiquette.
Japanese people grab the food in the middle of the upper and lower chopsticks using only one hand. That’s why it’s important to master the correct grip when using this utensil.
Now that you’ve learned how to hold your chopstick using your right hand, it’s time to practice. All you need to do is to keep the bottom chopstick in place and then use your index and middle fingers to move the top chopstick up and down.
As you practice, keep your fingers from making a cross with both ends of the chopsticks because it’s improper in Japan.
It is part of Japan’s tradition to use chopsticks using the right hand regardless if the person is left-handed. But nowadays, even holding the pair with the left hand is already accepted.
So if you feel more comfortable using chopsticks with your left hand, it’s completely okay. The steps to hold them are the same as how people would use them with their right hand. So that means you will also place the bottom chopstick between your thumb and index finger then hold the top one like holding a pen.
Japan is a country known for a lot of rules, and that includes the don’ts when eating with chopsticks. These are rules that everyone at the dining table must follow if people don’t want to be considered rude.
You’ve probably used low-quality, disposable chopsticks in your country. So part of your habit after snapping the top is to rub them together to remove the splinters. DO NOT do this in Japan as it’s considered an insult. It’s like you're implying that what they’ve given is a cheap one.
In China, the “X” shape is a symbol of death. Although this representation doesn’t exist in Japan, it is still considered rude to cross them whether you’re holding them or they’re resting on the holder. Keep them parallel with each other at all times.
Skewering food using chopsticks is improper in the land of the rising sun. Do not pick up food by stabbing it and then placing it in your mouth as this is bad table manners. There is no other way to pick up food other than placing them between the pair.
The correct way of passing food is to place it on a plate and then let the person get the food themselves. Never practice watashi-bashi or passing food between people using chopsticks. This improper way of giving food to others represents a funeral practice wherein people use chopsticks to pass the bones from a cremated body of a loved one.
When you’re dining in a restaurant, you will always be provided with a hashioki (箸置き) or chopstick rest. Maximize its use and never place it in a bowl even if you find it convenient. If they don’t have chopstick rest provided, you can use the wrapper to make it. And if a wrapper still isn’t available, use the tray.
Placing the chopsticks upright on the bowl, which is known as tsukitate-bashi (突き立て箸), is taboo in Japan as it reminds locals of a funeral. Doing this is believed to bring bad luck.
You won’t be considered rude if you ask for a fork in place of chopsticks when dining in restaurants. But the truth is, not all Japanese establishments have forks.
If you want to immerse yourself in the culture of Japan, we highly recommend practicing chopsticks with actual food as they are part of the country’s tradition and dining etiquette. As a foreigner, you can show your respect to Japan by eating your food with chopsticks and following dining etiquette.
Respect is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. Even the horizontal placement of chopsticks is their conscious decision — it draws from the country’s importance for the value of respect.
Part of dining etiquette in Japan is to avoid pointing chopsticks at a person because it is rude. So if they’re placed vertically, they’d be pointing at the one who sits across. Chopsticks are typically placed horizontally, with tips on the left side.
The horizontal placement also holds a spiritual significance. It is the boundary between the food, which is considered pure as it is a blessing from the gods, and humans, which are impure beings.
We know that there are so many rules when it comes to eating with chopsticks in Japan. You’ll probably find it hard to memorize them all. But when in doubt, just remember to eat with elegance and appreciate and respect the food.