Chopsticsks, o-hashi in Japanese, have an important place at the table. An essential part of the culinary experience in Japan, chopsticks are versatile and with practice, you may easily pick up something as small as a pea or even that stray grain of rice. Most traditional Japanese restaurants don’t have spoons, forks or knives, and if you haven’t eaten with chopsticks, we’d suggest you practice unless you want to be that person who carries cutlery in their bag.
If you come from Asia or love Asian cuisine, most likely you will know how to eat with chopsticks. But did you know that chopsticks protocol varies not just from country to country but can also have regional variations. You might be eating a meal and get some stares not because of what you’re eating but because what you think is normal might be considered a big NO-NO in Japan when it comes to using chopsticks.
THINGS YOU MUST NOT DO WITH YOUR CHOPSTICKS
Sticking your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice
Considered to be a breach of etiquette in the gravest sense as this is how food is offered to the soul of a deceased person. It often reminds other Japanese of someone who passed away as it is said to resemble the incense sticks stuck into ash during many temple ceremonies. No matter how tempted you might be, don’t ever make this mistake as it can be off-putting for your Japanese companions.
Picking up your food by skewering the chopsticks into it
Those used to eating with forks may be tempted to do this but remember that chopsticks, unlike forks, were not meant to stick in your food. Chopsticks are meant to pick food by gripping it only! On asking some Japanese as to why this is taboo, we found out that the reason is quite simple: it’s not an appealing sight; the possibility that a bit of the food might break and fall into your bowl is unappetizing.
Resting or placing your chopsticks on your bowl while eating
You are expected to neatly place the chopsticks on the hashi-oki (chopstick rest) in front of you. Usually, placing the chopsticks over your bowl means you are done with the meal and doing so while there is still food in the bowl can be considered offensive.
So what do you do when there’s no chopstick rest? Usually chopsticks will come in a hashi-bukuro, a chopstick cover. Fold it and viola, you have your hashi-oki.
See how its done
Using your chopsticks to point at someone
Just like in several other cultures, pointing is considered to be bad manners, Japan is no exception. Holding a pair of chopsticks and pointing at someone is like doing the same with a fork or knife. You must also not wave your chopsticks while talking. According to a survey by Nifty news, sashi-bashi topped the list of bad chopsticks etiquette among Japanese.
*It’s the same word as the first sashi-bashi mentioned in this article, but the kanji and therefore meaning differs.
Pulling bowls or plates towards you using chopsticks
You might be in an impatient mood but no matter what, do no pull plates or bowls of food you wish to eat with your chopsticks. The best thing to do is ask someone to pass it to you.
Licking or grabbing food stuck on your chopsticks
Sometimes food is just too damn delicious and you get that urge to lick the last scrap, but don’t! Chopsticks are meant to hold your food and not to be held in your mouth.
Utsuri-bashi or Watari-bashi (picking)
Picking up food with your chopsticks and then changing your mind only to pick something else
It would be the same as double dipping into a sauce! No one wants to eat food touched by someone else’s chopsticks. So be polite and eat what you touch with your chopsticks; even if it’s wasabi-zuke or something equally unappealing!
Indecisively hovering your chopsticks over food
Mayoi literally means to be lost. So your actions with your chopsticks directly suggest your state of mind. Wandering your chopsticks over various plates of food is inconsiderate and you might be perceived as being greedy. Make up your mind and pick up the food you want in one smooth motion.
Hiroi-bashi or Awase-bashi (passing)
Transferring or passing food from one person’s chopsticks to another
On cremating the deceased, chopsticks are used to pick the bones of the remains and placed into an urn. Transferring food in this way is inconsiderate as it reminds the Japanese of this funeral ritual.
These are just a few of the don’ts: some esoteric while others obvious. Of course, you need not remember the names for any of them but be aware of what you’re doing with your chopsticks at the dinner table.
We don’t know about the god of chopsticks but we surely don’t want you to offend anyone!