14 Golden Rules of Using Chopsticks in Japan
How to eat with chopsticks
1. Set the first chopstick on your ring finger and the gap between your thumb and index finger
CHECK: At this moment, your hand should look like you are making a peace sign.
Your thumb pushes toward the back of your hand, and your ring finger pushes toward your palm to give it a little bit of support.
CHECK: Your chopstick should lay firmly on your hand and cannot be moved easily.
2. Add the second chopstick
Hold it with your thumb, index finger, and middle finger.
CHECK: Set your thumb on the upper joint of your index finger to hold it firmly.
NOTE: Make a triangle with the chopsticks, which means the head of the chopsticks should not touch each other.
3. Practice pinching with the chopsticks
CHECK: only the upper chopstick should be moving, while the bottom one should not be moved.
14 rules of using chopsticks
Historically and traditionally, Kirai-bashi (forbidden usage of chopsticks) has been known as a discourteous behavior that gives rude and impolite impressions to other people while eating. To put it simply, it is forbidden when dining in Japan.
There are numbers of rules that you should keep in mind when you eat with chopsticks:
➢ Licking bits of food on the tip of the chopsticks
Licking the chopsticks in front of others is very unpleasant. It normally happens when pieces of rice stick on the chopsticks while eating Japanese food. Why does rice stick to your chopsticks? It is because the chopsticks are dry. Thus, you should start eating from liquid dishes first, usually miso soup, to prevent rice from sticking to your chopsticks.
➢ Transferring the food from a pair of the chopsticks to others
This is one of the typical bad manners of the chopsticks etiquette. Japanese has a tradition of cremation. After the cremation, funeral attenders pick up the bones one by one with the same chopsticks. Therefore, transferring food with chopsticks is considered as an ominous behavior in Japan.
➢ Impaling the food with the chopsticks
There are certain foods that you might struggle to pick up. For example, beans, boiled egg, and some other round and slippery foods that are very difficult to pick up and bring to the mouth. It is understandable but still considered as bad manner. Impaling the food with chopsticks might be considered rude and impolite to the person who cooks the meal.
➢ Moving the chopsticks over the dishes while deciding what you eat
Imagine someone is moving his/her chopsticks over the dishes. You might think that the person is not interested into any of the dishes, or others might think the person is judging the food. In any case, it gives a feeling of vulgarity.
➢ Pointing at someone else with the chopsticks
This is the typical bad manner of using chopsticks in Japan. Pointing a finger at someone could be considered rude in some countries. Pointing at someone else with chopsticks means the same in Japan. It is extremely uncivil and unforgivable.
➢ Sticking the chopsticks upright in the rice
According to teaching of Buddhism, especially in Japan, people stick the chopsticks upright in the rice when they mourn the dead. Chopsticks represent the bridge from this life to the life after death. Thus, people pray for the dead with the chopsticks sticking upright in a bowl of rice with the intent that the person can go to heaven without losing his/her way to Buddha. Therefore, it is considered as an ominous behavior like the “Transferring the chopsticks.”
➢ Searching the specific bits of food in the dishes
One of the best parts of enjoying WASHOKU is to see how beautifully the dish is arranged on a plate. Therefore, it is discourteous to the chef when you break down the perfect arrangement of the dish and search for the food you like.
➢ Biting the tip of chopsticks
Biting the tip of the chopsticks shortens the life of the chopsticks. Especially in classy restaurants, they normally use authentic and expensive chopsticks, so biting and worsening their chopsticks gives them a considerable loss. Moreover, people don’t want to see someone’s tooth-mark on his/her chopsticks.
➢ Directly shove the food from the bowl or plate and pushing it into your mouth
The traditional manner of WASHOKU is not to make a noise while eating. One good example is the noise that people make when they suck on the noodle or chew food when their mouths open. When you directly shove the food from your bowl or plate into your mouth, those unpleasant noises would be made. If you were at home, it would be forgivable. If you are in public, however, you should be careful.
Photo Source: http://mos-mos.com/edo-harumi_rice_diet-161
➢ Putting the chopsticks over the bowl or plate while eating
This behavior means you are full and you don’t want anymore. If you want to put your chopsticks down to drink water, you can put your chopsticks on the Hashioki (chopsticks rest). If there is no Hashioki on the table, you can fold a paper case for the chopsticks and put them on it.
➢ Tapping or hitting a dish with the chopsticks
This is not only showing your discourteousness but also damaging the tableware. Chopsticks are not a toy or drum sticks.
➢ Waving the chopsticks
You might want to talk with hand gestures when you are excited, and you wave the chopsticks like a conductor in an orchestra. This, however, is not a good attitude when everyone is having a meal at a table. It is also considered bad manner to wave knife and fork when you eat western cuisine. You might throw your chopsticks or accidently stab a person sitting next to you because the tips of chopsticks are very sharp. Place the chopsticks on the chopsticks rest when you talk with hand gestures.
➢ Pulling a dish towards you with the chopsticks
Some of the dishes are far from your seat and you can’t reach them, therefore you pull the dish toward you with your chopsticks. This commonly happens on the dinner table at home, but could be very dangerous. The bowl or plate can easily be turned over if you pull it with chopsticks. Moreover, the friction by lugging the dish might leave scratches on the tableware or table.
➢ Dripping the soup or the liquid dishes from the tip of chopsticks
You need to be careful when you try to eat liquid dishes, especially when you use Shoyu (soy sauce). It is very easy to drip sauce on the table or your clothes, but difficult to get rid of the stain. Moreover, the way liquid is dripped from chopsticks reminds people of someone who is crying. Thus, dripping not only impolite but also ominous.
These actions are known as discourteous behaviors in Japan, and it is particularly important to follow the manners on the table when you have a meal with someone else. It might seem complicated and troublesome to learn and follow each manners, but it is fun to know why “you can’t do” and “you should do” when you eat WASHOKU because there are numerous interesting historical and traditional reasons. Learn the proper manners and have a nice meal with your favorite people!