Whether you are planing a trip to Japan or want to make a good impression, you should definitely do your research. Japan has a rich dinning history, especially when it comes to the use of chopsticks. In fact, chopsticks have been used in Japan since the Nara period (710-794). So, you can understand why there are so many traditions and unwritten rules surrounding the use of chopsticks (はし, hashi).
Things NOT Do With Chopsticks
1. Don’t stab your food with your chopsticks
Okay, the first one isn’t so hard - just don’t do it. Why? Chopsticks have a certain role on the dinning table – they're used to "pinch" food and bring it back to your mouth, not to stab food like a fork.
2. Don't stand your chopsticks up vertically
This may sound familiar to the first rule, but one of the biggest and most common taboos is placing your chopsticks vertically in your bowl. In Japanese culture, this is an absolute DON’T because it’s the way a bowl of rice is offered to the spirit of a dead person, at their deathbed or in front of their photograph on the household Buddhist altar. If you're not using your chopsticks, try using the chopsticks rest, if available.
3. Avoid crossing your chopsticks.
Crossing your chopsticks is taboo, as it is a symbol of death. Chopsticks have always been considered to be a pair, therefore they should always stand side by side. When you're not using your chopsticks, you should have them rested straight and parallel next to each other.
4. Don’t point with your chopsticks
Okay, pointing alone is considered rude, so don’t ever think of doing that. When you’re talking and basically NOT using your chopsticks, you should have them rested on the chopstick rest. It's considered bad manners to talk and use your chopsticks for pointing.
5. Don't pass food with your chopsticks
This is another Japanese funeral custom in which you pass cremated bones from chopstick to chopstick into the urn as a part of the Buddhist funeral ritual. If you want to pass food to another person, the best plan is to ask for a pair of toribashi (chopsticks for communal use) and place the item directly on their plate.
6. Do not use your own chopsticks when eating from shared dish
Now that we have introduced you to toribashi chopsticks, this is the second best time to use them. Don't eat food directly from a communal plate. Instead put it onto your own plate and then enjoy.
7. Don't stir your food with your chopsticks
In Japan, this is considered rude and insulting to the cook. If you are ever invited to a formal Japanese meal, you might want to remember this. Stirring more casual foods like natto rice is permitted.
8. Don’t lick or suck your chopsticks
This is considered rude as well as unhygienic, especially if you're sharing a plate of food. Again, use the chopstick rest to keep your hands free. A similar taboo is removing bits of food that are stuck to your chopsticks—such as grains of rice—with your mouth.
In summary, I know this may be a lot to take in but don’t get too preoccupied with these rules. Even if you find yourself dining in an unfamiliar setting such as a traditional Japanese meal, you should strive to carry yourself in a cool and collected way, as it’s a sign of the utmost refined manners. Just try to remember the main chopstick taboos which reflect Japanese funeral customs. Do your best and we’ll guarantee everything will end up okay!
About the author: Hello, my name is Suzan, 20 years old student in Sofia University, Bulgaria. My major is Japan, so as can you guess I’m now studying about their rich and beautiful culture and language as well. That is why I find great pleasure doing these articles as it gives me the opportunity to expand my knowledge and it’s easy doing something you love.