Use chopsticks like a native Japanese by adhering to basic cultural etiquette. Chopsticks, known as hashi in Japanese, are used daily for most solid food and cooking needs. Western and non-Japanese cuisine may be eaten with hashi, but standard Western silverware such as forks and knives are an alternative. There are basic rules for using hashi, however, and ignorance can lead to an uncomfortable social faux pas.
- When eating with others, never reach the pointed end of your hashi into a serving dish to grab food. Turn your hashi around and use the “handle” end to select food and put the food on your plate, then turn your hashi around again for eating.
- Always put the food on your plate before eating it. Even if you are sharing between friends’ plates, pick the food item up and place it on your plate using the “handle” end of your hashi. Then turn your hashi around and consume the food from your own plate. If sharing from your own plate, do not use your hashi to move the food to a friend’s plate. Offer for the friend to take the food with their own hashi. If serving a friend from a serving dish, use the serving hashi or other serving utensil present.
- Never pierce food with the hashi. Although the ends are pointed, or at least tapered, it is considered inappropriate in Japan and amongst Japanese to pierce food with your hashi.
- When eating, do not use your hashi to “dig” or “search” for food items in your plate or in a shared serving dish. Eat the food on top first, and work your way to the bottom of your plate.
- Never use hashi to move or shift dishes around. Whether the pointed or handle end of the hashi, using the chopsticks to shift dishes around on the table is socially inappropriate. The hashi are for eating only.
- Never use your hashi to push food into your mouth. The only dish that is brought to the mouth is the soup bowl, and in Japan soup is considered a beverage so it is normal to drink from the soup bowl. Although sometimes seen on anime, pushing food into your mouth from a plate raised to your face is about as appealing as watching a food eating contest.
- Never wave your hashi around, even if someone else does it first. They are for eating, not a toy. Likewise, never use your hashi to point at someone or something.
- If your hashi fall on the floor, ask for a second pair. The floor is considered dirty, and eating with hashi that have touched the floor is equated to eating off the bottom of your shoes.
- Avoid sucking on, licking, or otherwise mouthing your hashi. Use the hashi to pick up food, place it in your open mouth, and remove the hashi. Then chew and swallow your food. Also, try to avoid dropping food. If you need to, practice with children’s training chopsticks which have an attachment that makes them easy to operate.
- After using your hashi, place them on the chopsticks rest. This will usually be a tiny ceramic piece with a slight curve at the top to keep the hashi from rolling off. The pointed end rests on the chopsticks rest and the handle portion rests on the table. Set the hashi down when not in use.
Taboos to Avoid
- Never stick your hashi in your food. This is especially true for bowls of rice, because hashi standing up in a rice bowl is part of a Buddhist funeral rite.
- Never transfer food from one person’s hashi to another person’s hashi. This is also associated with Buddhist funerals. After cremation, the family members will transfer remaining bones in this manner, using hashi, so this is a social faux pas when eating.
The etiquette list seems long, but these are simple techniques that can improve your social interactions with native Japanese as well as help you make a great first impression with friends, on a date, or with Japanese business colleagues.