Eating with chopsticks is part of everyday life in Japan and certain etiquette is engrained as deeply as the tradition itself. As a visitor you will be forgiven for not nailing chopsticks the first time around, and your little faux pas will probably be let slide as easily as the sashimi that slipped through your wooden talons. However, there are some things to avoid when eating with chopsticks and it is always appreciated if you make an effort to adhere to the local customs. Here are some tips to get you on your way!
With your Japan holiday on the horizon, try using chopsticks at home (if you haven’t before) or polishing up your technique. Perhaps watch some videos online or head out to a Japanese restaurant so that you can see how the pros hold their chopsticks (subtly, no staring!). Once you have your chopsticks nestled correctly in your hands, everything gets easier, promise!
When sharing a meal from communal dishes serve onto your plate first before eating. Don’t eat straight from the share plates or stab your food with your chopsticks. Serve yourself from the top of the dish rather than poking around for something specific and use the serving utensils provided. If you are serving others always serve onto their plate. Never pass from chopsticks to chopsticks as this is also reflective of a Japanese funeral ritual where a cremated person’s bones are passed by chopsticks.
Once you’ve nailed how to hold your chopsticks it’s time to be mindful of where to rest them when they are not busy helping you devour the delicious food. You will usually be given a chopstick holder, so rest them parallel on there and avoid crossing them. Definitely do not stick them upright in your rice, as this is part of a ceremony performed at Japanese funerals and taboo when dining.
During your meal place your chopsticks down while chatting. Don’t wave them around to accentuate your conversation or point at people with your chopsticks. Don’t rest them in your mouth or suck on them, and it is also considered rude to lick them while you are eating. Don’t swirl them around in your soup either, as this is also considered impolite. Chopsticks should definitely not be confused with a set of drumsticks while you await your meal!
Do not rub your chopsticks together in preparation for your meal. This is sometimes done to smooth any splinters left from splitting a chopstick pair apart. Doing so is an indication that you think the chopsticks are cheap and splintery. When deciding what to devour first, don’t hover your chopsticks over multiple dishes – pick one and serve yourself. Enjoy!