How to use chopsticks properly and seven chopsticks taboos to avoid in Japan

By YamamotoChika

How to use chopsticks properly and seven chopsticks taboos to avoid in Japan

The history of chopsticks in Japan dates back to the 7th century. It’s believed that when the Japanese used to send kenzuishi, or diplomats, to China, they brought chopsticks back to Japan. After that, use of chopsticks became more common throughout the country, and the Japanese developed a unique culture of their own, crafted with different details. For example, Chinese chopsticks are longer, with round tips, but Japanese ones tend to be shorter with pointy tips. There are different uses for chopsticks that determine the materials and functions of chopsticks. 

Enjoy Japanese food even more by understanding how to properly use Japanese chopsticks!

How to hold chopsticks

First, you hold the chopsticks on your dominant hand, pointing tips down, with your thumb and index finger. Use the index finger and the middle finger to hold the chopstick on the top, moving them to get food while your ring finger gently supports the bottom chopstick. If you want to serve or eat a liquid item or a bigger amount, you can always use spoons.  


Japanese people use chopsticks to eat not only Japanese food but also a variety of other dishes.


Taboos to avoid when using chopsticks in Japan 

There are many taboos that the Japanese avoid while using chopsticks, so it's a good idea learn how not to offend anyone by using the chopsticks the wrong way.


Don't point your chopsticks at people.

1. Do not stick the chopsticks into food

Make sure you hold food between the chopsticks and avoid using chopsticks like a fork. Especially in Japan, there are customs of serving food for the dead with chopsticks stuck in vertically, which is considered bad luck for the living.


2. Do not point at someone with your chopsticks

Tips of the chopsticks should not be pointed at anyone, they should be only pointed at food. Some people might feel insulted by this, and it could also lead to injury, so don’t use your chopsticks as a pointer.


3. Don’t bite or lick your chopsticks

Linking or biting chopsticks are bad manners, trea. You should treatfhem like any other silverware. Similar to other silverware, restaurants could be reusing the chopsticks after washing them, so make sure you don’t ruin the chopsticks.


4. Don’t use the chopsticks to move dishes

Holding dishes while eating or using your hands to bring dishes closer are common practices in Japan. However, you should not use chopsticks to move dishes closer to you or the others;, simply use your hands.


5. Don’t use the chopsticks upside down

It’s said that using chopsticks upside down could cause bad luck. If you need a new pair of chopsticks for whatever reason, like having dropped them, ask a server to bring a new pair.


6. Don’t use chopsticks to make a sound with the dishes

A chopstick might look like a drum stick, but it’s rude to use it as one, even for the children. Since older restaurants could be using historical dishes, chopsticks, and silverware, make sure you don’t ruin them.


7. Avoid using your chopsticks to serve when sharing dishes

Many dishes are considered shareable, but people usually do not use their own chopsticks to share dishes. Ask the server to bring you another pair if you need serving chopsticks for a bigger dish.

Observing those taboos will enable you to avoid offending Japanese people or be considered rude in Japanese restaurants and homes. Everyone will better enjoy the experience.

There’s a saying in Japan similar to‘, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." Respecting local customs, understanding manners and following the local rules will help you develop better relationships with the locals and avoid unnecessary tensions. 

 So, ‘When in Japan, do as the Japanese do.’ Use the chopsticks properly.