Even if you are used to eating with chopsticks in your own home, the required etiquette and manners to follow in Japan are likely different than you are used to.
10 Japanese Chopsticks Manners to Master
Chopsticks (お箸, or o-hashi) are the choice utensil for most people in Japan for most meals, from rice to ramen, to salads, and even soup. It’s important to first make sure you comfortable with using chopsticks to eat with––the chopsticks in Japan tend to be short and thin compared to those in other countries. It’s also equally important to ensure that you are following proper etiquette. Following Japan’s unique chopsticks manners is a practical skill that will elevate your meal experience also impress your dining partners.
Below are ten important rules to remember when enjoying dining in Japan with chopsticks. How many have you mastered?
1. Hold your chopsticks properly
Most everybody enjoys food with chopsticks, but are you sure you are holding them correctly? Even if you think you’re pretty good, a close coworker or friend may try to fix the way you hold chopsticks.
If you want to practice in advance, hold your chopsticks kind of like you would a pencil, and really only move the upper chopstick when picking up your food. The lower chopstick should be resting between your thumb and index finger, and be sure to hold the chopsticks about one-third of the way down, towards the end.
2. Avoid spearing or skewering your food with chopsticks
Once you’ve mastered holding your chopsticks, remember what they’re for: grabbing and picking up food, but not spearing your food like a fork or knife. Spearing or skewering with your chopsticks is very rude, so try to avoid it.
3. Do not stick your chopsticks into your food
You should also never stick your chopsticks into your food (especially not into a bowl of rice) so that they are sticking up vertically. The chopsticks sticking up from the rice resembles the incense sticks lit at the altar during a funeral in Japan.
4. Don’t use chopsticks to cut your food
This is another self-explanatory rule, but cutting up your food with chopsticks is impractical and rude, as chopsticks are not sharp enough to cut most foods. Trying to cut your food with chopsticks is also rude.
One exception to this rule is when you are eating a block of tofu that needs to be cut in half or into smaller, more manageable bites. The tofu will be soft enough for you to try to make a neat cut, and then pick up the smaller piece.
5. Don’t pass food with chopsticks
Passing a bite of your food directly from your pair of chopsticks to your diner’s chopsticks is to be avoided, as this also reminds many people of funeral practices. When passing food to someone, it is best to place it on a small plate (取り皿 torizara) and pass it by handing it over.
6. Use the opposite side of your chopsticks when sharing food
When you take from a serving bowl or plate that everyone is eating from, it is polite and hygienic to the opposite end of your chopsticks–i.e. the end you are not eating from. You will see most people doing this at izakaya and restaurants when eating out with coworkers or friends.
7. Rest your chopsticks in front of your plate
When you are not picking up food, it is good manners to place your chopsticks parallel to your plate or bowl, right in front of where you are sitting, setting them on a chopsticks holder or putting them back into their paper wrapper. Setting them directly in the middle of your bowl or plate signals that you are done eating, so save this until the end of the meal.
8. Keep your chopsticks parallel and uncrossed
Your chopsticks should never really cross as you pick up food, and you should avoid crossing them into an “X” shape when you put them down too. It may look cute in pictures, but this is considered bad manners, so keep them parallel as much as possible.
9. No pointing, waving, or playing with your chopsticks
This basic rule applies to forks, knives, spoons as well, but do not use your set of chopsticks to point at something, or wave or play around with them. It is not polite and you could potentially poke someone with the chopsticks!
10. Don’t move your plate with chopsticks
This again may be self-explanatory, but don’t use your set of chopsticks as a way to bring your bowl or plate closer to you or to move around things on the dining table. If
you want to bring something close, use your hands!