Chopsticks and Fork

Aug 26, 2020Blog, Culture

The Chopsticks And The Fork

When looking at the difference between occidental and Japanese eating style, I am always struck by the contrast. 

Picture a participant using knife and fork with the quivering and seared flesh firmly pinned down by the fork, the participant then saws off a large hunk of meat, raises the trident-like utensil, and then forks the flesh into the participants gapping maw. 


On the other hand, in Japanese style dinning, the meat is already portioned into bite sized pieces. One takes the chopsticks, chose the perfect morsel, elegantly pinches the food and then flows it gracefully passed one’s lips. 刺身と箸

The concept around eating is fundamentally different between cultures and is reflected in the utensils, or lack there of, used to eat. 

In the traditional occidental style, one has their entire meal on a plate and tend to be consumed over a short time period with the focus on consuming the meal as opposed to socializing.

In contrasts, the sense of community when taking meals is much more prevalent here in Japan. For example, when sharing a plate of raw fish, everyone picks from the same dish. Evening meals tend to be drawn out and the eating and drinking over a long period. 

Chopsticks protocol plays an important role in the spiritual realm of the Japanese as well, in particular concerning dearly and recently departed relatives.

Make sure you observe these important chopstick protocols when you are in Japan. or in front of Japanese people anywhere, and you can avoid having them look upon you as a barbarian.

First of all, never take food directly from someone’s chopsticks to your own chopsticks. 

This kind of chopstick action evokes an extremely solemn Buddhist funeral ceremony protocol, where the bereaved family gather around the recently cremated and dearly departed. The family gathers on either side over the skeletal remains of the newly cremated ancestor. At the head, there are two special sets of chopstick. The relatives then take turns two-by-two using the chopsticks to take a piece of the bone together and place it in the urn at the head of the deceased. ChopstickToChopstick

I observed the finishing where the bones were capped with the top of the skull and then pushed down making a scrunching sound. Grandfather’s glasses where then placed on top of that and the urn sealed and then wrapped up in a box with a neat bow.

The take away: Do not take any objects or food from another person chopstick directly.

Also, make sure not stand one’s chopsticks in a bowl of rice straight up.

When giving an incense stick to the recently departed, there is a special picture of the deceased, and a bowl of rice before them. There is a pair of chopsticks sticking straight up this bowl of rice.FuneralPictureFrameChopsticksStickingStraightUpInRice

Make sure NOT do this when “resting” your chopsticks at your Japanese relatives house, or anywhere for that matter, for you will be looked upon as a vulgar savage who stinks of butter.

Always keep in mind pointing ones chopsticks at someone, or waving them around while talking is extremely poor etiquette, and should be avoided.

Imagine what it looks like if you were pointing at somebody with your knife and fork while talking? 

I remember my father after coming back from Japan in 1969, he brought the family chopsticks and chopstick rests as a souvenir (My Fathers Hats Came Back To Japan Blog Here). 

He told us, “I was taught how to hold and use chopsticks properly by the general manager of Datsun”.

He then showed us the proper way to use chopsticks: I have been using chopsticks since I was six.How-to-use-chopsticks

I get a chuckle when the Japanese complimenting me on my chopstick technique, that even after living here for over three decades, people still say to me, “oh my, your chopstick technique is very very excellent”, to which I bow my head slightly and reply, “and your fork technique is equally extraordinary”. 

Learning proper chopstick technique and etiquette is highly recommended before visiting Japan, or anywhere in Asia, in fact where these versatile utensils may be used.