An Introduction to Japanese Chopstick Etiquette
If you’ve caught up on all the latest Japanese dramas, and know how to order food in Japanese, it’s time to impress your friends with your chopstick etiquette (お箸の作法).
However, there are a few things to keep in mind that you should absolutely avoid when dining at a Japanese restaurant or with Japanese people.
Not sure what they are?
Here are the top 10 chopstick taboos and things to watch out for when eating with chopsticks!
- Top Chopstick Taboos in Japan
- 1. Standing Your Chopsticks Up Vertically (立て箸)
- 2. Passing Food from Chopstick to Chopstick (拾い箸)
- 3. Placing Chopsticks Across a Bowl (渡し箸)
- 4. Talking with Your Hands… and Chopsticks (踊り箸)
- 5. Stabbing Food (指し箸)
- 6. Sucking on Your Chopsticks (ねぶり箸)
- 7. Hovering over Food (迷い箸)
- 8. Taking from Shared Dishes (逆さ箸)
- 9. Moving Your Bowl (寄せ箸 ・ 持ち箸)
- 10. Washing Your Chopsticks in Soup (洗い箸)
- And One More Thing...
Top Chopstick Taboos in Japan
1. Standing Your Chopsticks Up Vertically (立て箸)
One of the biggest and most frequent taboos is placing your chopsticks vertically in your bowl. At Japanese funerals, a bowl of rice is left with two chopsticks standing vertically in the center. When you place chopsticks upright in a bowl, it’s said to bring bad luck.
Bad luck aside, this chopstick taboo is actually a no-no in many Asian countries so make use of those chopstick rests (箸置き) by your dish! You can also get crafty and rest disposable chopsticks on the bag they came in.
2. Passing Food from Chopstick to Chopstick (拾い箸)
Another “deadly” mistake is to share food by passing it with your chopsticks, and having another person take it with theirs.
This taboo is also funeral-related. At funerals in Japan, the bone fragments of the deceased are passed from person to person with a pair of chopsticks.
Rethink how you’re going to share that slice of toriniku next time, or just keep it for yourself!
3. Placing Chopsticks Across a Bowl (渡し箸)
Placing your chopsticks across your bowl during a meal tells the chef (and everyone around you) that you no longer want your dish. If you haven’t finished eating, then this can be rude.
It’s also good manners to keep your chopsticks straight instead of having them cross when you’re not using them. If you’re given disposable chopsticks, you can place them on the wrapper they came in (and place them inside once you’re finished your meal).
If your chopsticks aren’t disposable, then place the utensils along the left edge of your dish. Do make sure that they are placed together and don’t cross.
4. Talking with Your Hands… and Chopsticks (踊り箸)
If you’re a person who talks with your hands, make sure you put your chopsticks down before you start chatting. Waving your chopsticks in the air and using them to point at someone or something is bad manners.
5. Stabbing Food (指し箸)
Your chopsticks are not weapons (at least let’s hope not), so you shouldn’t use them as one.
Stabbing your food with one or both chopsticks to pick it up is rude. It’s also impolite and poor manners to use one chopstick to skew something, or as a knife.
Pretend that the utensils are attached; they should always be used together.
6. Sucking on Your Chopsticks (ねぶり箸)
Chewing and sucking on your chopsticks, or letting them rest in your mouth while your hands are occupied is rude. It’s also bad to scratch your head or any other part of your body with chopsticks.
7. Hovering over Food (迷い箸)
Try not to let your hand or chopsticks hover from dish to dish while you decide what to eat.
It’s best to take a little from each dish, rather than just taking your favorites each time. Usually, there’s plenty of food to go around, so go wild and select something at random if you can’t choose what to eat next.
8. Taking from Shared Dishes (逆さ箸)
Don’t let the title fool you—you’re more than welcome to take from shared dishes, but use the supplied utensils to do so, if there are any available.
Some people turn their chopsticks around so the thick side (the side that hasn’t been touching your lips) is used to take from a shared plate. I find that when dining with friends and family, this rule is much more relaxed or even non-existent.
Although that practice is well-known, it is still not considered to be proper manners. This is because the other end is held in your hands, which are not clean. Rather, it is expected to use extra chopsticks (取り箸) to transfer food from a communal plate. When in doubt, watch to see what others do.
9. Moving Your Bowl (寄せ箸 ・ 持ち箸)
Don’t move your dish closer to you by pulling it with your chopsticks (寄せ箸). You also shouldn’t lift a bowl with the hand that’s holding your chopsticks (持ち箸).
If you’re having a hard time remembering so many rules, just remember to move dishes with your free hand. You should also reach for a bowl with both hands to bring it closer to you.
10. Washing Your Chopsticks in Soup (洗い箸)
Don’t use a bowl of soup (or any other liquid at the dining table) to wash your chopsticks.
It’s also bad manners to rub wooden disposable chopsticks together. This is done to remove splinters from cheap chopsticks, so doing this is indicating that you think your chopsticks are cheap.
Even if you’re given disposable chopsticks, try not to do this unless they are splintery.
That might seem like a lot to remember, but if you ever get lost, observe how others are using their chopsticks around you and that will point you in the right direction.
If you need a refresher on how to use chopsticks, check out this video.
If you prefer getting instructions directly in Japanese with interactive subtitles, you can do so on FluentU, a language learning program.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Good luck and most of all remember to enjoy all of that Japanese food that you’re eating!
And One More Thing...
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