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Chopsticks Etiquette. Before You Go To Japan, Make Sure You Know This About Chopstick Etiquette...

An Important Part of Etiquette in Japan is Proper Use of ChopsticksAn Important Part of Etiquette in Japan is Proper Use of Chopsticks

Chopsticks etiquette or rules that surround their use in Japan are numerous and there are metric tons of them. But of all the cultural etiquette that virtually consumes Japanese culture chopsticks etiquette is one that deserves special attention. As an English teacher, you’ll often be invited out by your students to dinner after classes or be invited to their parties.

And a party isn’t a party without food (or something gettin' broke). Like most Asian countries, almost everything is eaten with chopsticks, (excluding soups and other dishes that are either too fine or slippery).

Showing that you know a bit of Japanese etiquette really goes a long way towards making some in-roads into the culture. If you’ve never eaten with them before, it’s a good idea to start practicing before you venture east.

Chopsticks Etiquette and Dinner

Short of throwing up on your Japanese guest has got to be sticking them into a plain bowl of rice. If you do this get ready to receive a look of total shock and horror, as this is something that is done at funerals in Japan to honor the dead.

If you want to put them somewhere, lay them across the top of whatever dish or bowl you’re eating from. Note, this only applies to white rice. Although Japanese never put them into any dish (mostly out of habit), putting them into say... a bowl or ramen is nowhere near as bad.

Chopsticks Etiquette & Some of the Basics

  • Stabbing your food with  chopsticks is generally considered poor etiquette. Although it’s tempting at times, (especially when you’re trying to grab a greasy sauce covered meat ball,) nonetheless, avoid it like the plague.

  • Another Japanese etiquette blunder is passing a food item with them to someone else. After all, they were in your mouth.

  • However, it is OK to pass food to your guests’ plates with a communal pair that you return to the main serving dish after you’re finished serving. The serving chopsticks are called (saibashi) and should never be used personally. Use the serving pair to put food on your personal plate then return them to the communal dish and use your own set to eat. If there isn't a communal pair, use the wide end (gripping part) to take food from the communal plate.

  • Playing with chopsticks or tapping on the table or other objects is also in bad taste.

  • Yet another item on the bad Japanese etiquette list is "Yosei bashi." It means moving any item on the table (such as a tea cup or plate) with your chopsticks. Chopsticks or "ohashi" are strictly for handling food.

  • Don't lick them. As you might have guessed, this is also bad etiquette.

  • “Waribashi” the wooden throw-away kind that you snap apart, sometimes splinter when you break them. Avoid the temptation to rub them together to remove the splinters or dip them in water. When using “waribashi,” it’s good etiquette to slip them back into their paper sleeve once you're finished with your meal rather than to leave them on your plate with the remnants of what you ate still stuck to them. Makes sense not to gross-out your guest right? 
  • If they fall off your plate and hit the floor, there is no such thing as a “2 second rule.” The floor like the bottom of a shoe, is considered about as dirty as it gets so there is no wiping them off. So if your chopsticks hit the floor, ask for another pair.

  • Pointing in general is considered bad etiquette. Pointing at people with them is even worse.
High-End ChopsticksHigh-End Chopsticks

If you are looking for super slick specialty chopsticks there is a nice store in Marunouchi, Chiyoda, Tokyo  named Moshi Moshi Nippon that specializes in high-end chopsticks. A bit more pricey but nicer. Of course if you are just looking for something for yourself and are not entertaining guests any run of the mill Daiei, Marunaka, Maruhachi or even convenience store will sell them quite cheaply.

Now that you'll make a great first impression by showing your mastery of chopsticks etiquette, check out our teaching jobs abroad page  for the latest job listings both full and part-time.

More Related Articles...

Japanese Etiquette: Piles of tips and advice on minimizing slip-ups.
Japanese Dining Etiquette: Here we'll touch on the most common breaches of etiquette and talk a bit about good etiquette to impress your students or clients.
Japanese Business Etiquette: there's a bit to mastering it. But its not as hard as many would have you believe. Learn the do's and don'ts and ins and outs.

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