Chopsticks are an essential eating utensil in Japan. While chopsticks are relatively common these days, not many know how to properly use them. There is a great amount of “chopstick etiquette” to be aware of if you want to become an expert in Japanese cuisine.
Knowing all about the right and wrong way to use chopsticks may not be as important in America. However, if you’re ever visiting Japan, or even if you want to host a Japanese dinner party the right way, learning chopstick etiquette is both exciting and fun. It will also come in quite handy if you are having a formal lunch or dinner with Japanese guests!
Chopstick Etiquette No-Nos
When it comes to chopstick etiquette, it’s mainly more about what not to do. For starters, consider a dinner conversation. You may be used to talking while holding your fork and knife. However, talking while holding your chopsticks is deemed to be terrible manners.
Don’t Point, Stab, or Play With Your Chopsticks
It should seem fairly obvious that playing with your chopsticks, as though they were drumsticks, is considered bad manners. Likewise, so is pointing your chopsticks at someone while talking. It would be best if you also didn’t stab pieces of food rather than to pick them up with the chopsticks.
Don’t Make the Sign of Death!
Would you believe that something as ordinary as chopsticks could be associated with death? If you leave them standing up in your food, such as a bowl of rice, you will have effectively made a symbol of death and bad luck.
Many restaurants will provide chopstick rests, and if you enjoy hosting Japanese dinner parties, it’s a good idea to purchase a few for your home. Leave your chopsticks resting gently on these side by side when they are not in use.
Taking Food and Sharing
Japanese meals are often comprised of several dishes of food. You’ll take what you want on your plate using the serving utensils or longer chopsticks made for dishing food onto your plate. Never use your chopsticks to take food from the main dishes, and don’t use your chopsticks to pass food to another person at the table.
Such action is taboo, as it is also associated with death because, at Japanese funerals, chopsticks will be used to pass bone fragments of the deceased from person to person.
On a side note, it is also considered bad manners to take too much food from one dish or take too much time to select food. Japanese meals are meant to provide a range of different foods that form a complete meal. Select a little bit from each dish — only what you intend to eat. You can always take more if you’d like, but you want to avoid leaving anything on your plate.
The rules for sharing and which chopsticks to use for serving can be relaxed for family-style dishes like shabu-shabu and sukiyaki.
Some aspects of poor etiquette and food behavior shouldn’t need to be mentioned, but don’t suck on your chopsticks or attempt to wash off food particles in your soup. Additionally, avoid rubbing your chopsticks together. This is an action often performed with cheap wooden chopsticks to remove splinters. Therefore, doing so indicates that you believe your chopsticks are cheap.
It is also considered rude to use your chopsticks to stir your food at a formal dinner, or to allow the liquid to fall from your chopsticks onto the table, leading to stains or just unsightly blemishes during the dinner.
Hold your bowl closer to your mouth with one hand, and use your chopsticks to bring food to your mouth. This enables you to consume small portions of food at a time. Shoveling the food into your mouth is never a respectful way to eat! This rule only applies to bowls of soup or rice — other plates and bowls should remain on the table. And, while you shouldn’t suck on your chopsticks, it is okay to slurp your noodles!
Chopsticks Are Meant to Be Used Together
Use chopsticks together or not at all. Even though they are not attached, imagine them as one instrument, such as a pair of tweezers. You should never use a single chopstick (or both chopsticks) to spear larger pieces of food. Likewise, use a pair of matching chopsticks. Doing so is also similar to a Japanese funeral rite.
When You Finish Eating
Place your chopsticks across the bowl to signal to the chef or host that you are done eating. But take note that it is bad manners to do this if there is still food in your bowl or on your plate.
The Bottom Line Regarding Chopstick Etiquette
There are a lot of actions you’ll want to avoid doing when using chopsticks. Doing so not only enhances your meal, but also shows respect to your host, the chef, and other guests.