How to use Japanese chopsticks the right way

Here are the do’s and don’t of Japanese chopsticks! Learn how to avoid making cultural mistakes while eating with Japanese people.


If you are reading this article, maybe are you having a business dinner with your Japanese counterparts soon? Or maybe have you been invited to a Japanese family dinner? Or maybe are you afraid to make a cultural mistake during your upcoming trip to Japan?

Worry no more! Here are the keys that will allow you to use chopsticks properly and have the perfect chopsticks manners.

How to hold your chopsticks properly in two steps

Chopsticks (お箸, o-hashi in Japanese) should be held about 3/5ths of the way up from the pointed end. This is considered to be more elegant.

Hold the first chopstick—which will be the uppermost chopstick—in the same way that you hold a pen:

ohashi_05

Slide the second chopstick in under the first, resting it at the base of your thumb, then supporting it with your ring finger.

ohashi_06

Practice using the chopsticks, only moving the upper chopstick and being careful not to allow the chopsticks to cross over each other.

ohashi_03

Mastering the use of chopsticks may take a little time. Don’t worry if you’re not very good at it: Japanese people will always appreciate your effort and compliment you on how well you use them.

The keys to good chopstick manners

There are a few things that you should never do using chopsticks! Some of them are taboo and might shock your Japanese counterpart if you do them. Others are just considered bad manners and a lack of education.

Here are the essential faux-pas to avoid to respect the Japanese chopsticks etiquette:

1: Sticking your chopsticks upright in your rice

This is probably the most important taboo. You should never do this because it is linked to death rituals. This is how rice is presented as an offering to the spirit of a deceased person.

2: Handing things over with chopsticks

This is second important taboo. Never use your chopsticks to pass something to someone from chopsticks to chopsticks.

This is only ever done as part of the ritual during the Buddhist funerals. After the body of the deceased person is cremated, the whole family handles the bones by passing them from chopsticks to chopsticks. 

3: Playing with your chopsticks

In many countries children are taught not to play with their food. It is the same in Japan, but also with the chopsticks. Do not use them as drumsticks or swords.

4: Indecisive chopsticks

Do not wave your chopsticks around above the plates. This is easy to end up doing, as you are deciding which dish to select from. It’s best to first decide what you want to eat next, and then put your chopsticks in motion.

5: Digging into the food

Do not dig into the food to select only what you like.

6: Eating from a shared dish

When eating with other people, do not eat directly from the shared plates. Put food in your personal small plate (小皿, kozara in Japanese), then eat.

7: Pointing with your chopsticks

Do not point at something or someone with your chopsticks when you are talking.

8: Licking chopsticks

Do not lick where there is still some food remaining.

This is considered bad manners and children are often scolded by their parents when they do this.

9: Leaving your chopsticks in your mouth

Do not leave the chopsticks in your mouth while you are doing something else with your hands like picking up plates.

10: Spearing with chopsticks

 Do not use your chopsticks to spear your food, rather than picking it up in the usual way. Chopsticks are not skewers, they are meant to be used like tongs.
Spearing is the most common mistake because some food can be hard to handle when you are not used to it.

11: Dragging dishes with your chopsticks

Don’t pull a bowl or a plate with you with your chopsticks.

12: Do not cross your chopsticks

Once you have finished using your chopsticks, do not cross them but place them side to side like on the above picture, preferably on the chopsticks rest (箸置き, hashioki in Japanese). It’s also better not to cross them in your hand while you are using them.

 

If you liked reading this, you might like the following articles:

A beginner’s guide to Kakigoori (Shaved Ice), a Japanese Summer Classic Food

How to use your Japanese folding fan the right way

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AUTHOR

Amelie

Amelie

Writer / Translator

I’m French but I’ve been living in Tokyo for many years during which I had a lot of meaningful and thrilling experiences. I’m curious and I love learning new things. My hobbies are kick boxing, scuba diving, Japanese traditional painting, etc… As a writer, I’d like to share information about less touristic, more authentic places. I will also write about all the fun and cultural activities unique to Japan.