Chopsticks are originally from China and were introduced in the Japanese culture in the seventh century, called hashi in Japan. In the Yayoi period, chopsticks were made from a stick of bamboo and then bent into a tweezers-like shape. It was in a later stage where chopsticks started to get used as two separate sticks, which is how we know the chopsticks nowadays.
In fact, 30% of the world is using chopsticks. They are mostly used by people from Asia like China, Korea and Japan. Remarkably, in China, people place their chopsticks in a different way than in Japan. In Japan, people place the chopsticks horizontally and not vertically as in China. This is because the Japanese believe that chopsticks are the tools for eating food together with their god. It is a common thing to say ‘’itadakimasu’’ before enjoying their meal, which means ‘’thank you for everything’’. It means that you show appreciation for everything that made you receive the food. This can be as simple as the farmer who produced the ingredients, or the person who served the food. It is therefore also impolite to eat food with your hands. As can be seen in the picture, Chinese have a spoon next to their chopsticks. In Japan, people do not use a spoon because here it is common to sit on the ground and a bowl is used to enjoy the soup directly from the cup.
How to use chopsticks
Eating sushi with chopsticks requires some skills, persistence and lots of practice. Once you have mastered the technique, you will notice that the chopsticks become a natural extension of your thumb and index finger. If you want to look like a real pro with your chopsticks, it is important to be aware of the cultural do’s and don’ts. At Yamazato Restaurant, we know that not every guest is familiar with all Japanese eating customs, so do not be afraid to make a mistake. Here are some guidelines to help you adapt to Japanese table manners.
The do’s and dont’s
For picking up the sushi, you can use both chopsticks. When dipping the sushi in the soy sauce, always lightly dip the fish not the rice into the sauce. The entire sushi should go into your mouth at once, so do not bite the sushi in half. Put the sushi in your mouth with the fish touching your tongue first. Use the blunt end of the chopsticks when taking food from a shared plate. Place the narrow, round end of the chopsticks on the small ceramic holder when you are not using them.
It is considered rude to rub your chopsticks together. Think of it like someone polishing their spoon with a napkin before eating; it implies that the chopsticks are not clean. You are not supposed to stir the wasabi into the soy sauce and turn it into a soup. The sushi chef has already added the right amount of wasabi to the sushi, so if you still want to add some more, put it directly onto the sushi.
Cultural habits to bear in mind
There are also some Japanese customs that might be useful to bear in mind when using chopsticks:
- Never use your chopsticks to take something from someone else’s chopsticks. This way of passing food is related to Japanese funerary customs.
- Don’t touch food unnecessarily with chopsticks when you are not eating it.
- Don’t point at someone with chopsticks.
- Don’t draw a plate or bowl towards you with a chopstick.
- Don’t scoop up food by using chopsticks like a spoon.
- Don’t spear food with your chopsticks.
- Always lay your chopsticks horizontally, not vertically, next to your plate.
- Laying chopsticks across a plate or a bowl implies you have finished eating.