Chopsticks (waribashi, hashi) are used everywhere. If you’ve never used chopsticks, we would humbly suggest practicing before landing at Narita. While we frequently encountered restaurant staff who accurately assessed us as clueless gaijin, we just as frequently encountered chopsticks-only establishments.
Once you learn the basics, chopsticks are easy to use. That’s the good news. The bad news is that chopsticks come with their own etiquette. Here are few suggestions to make things easier:
- Don’t store your chopsticks vertically in your rice bowl (or any other food). This is only done at funerals as part of a ritual.
- Don’t pass items between people using only chopsticks; and when taking food from a communal dish, turn the chopsticks upside down and use the part that has not been in your mouth to select items. Think of this as not double-dipping.
- Don’t engage in elaborate and vigorous rubbing chopsticks together. Though it should go without saying, this implies that the establishment has provided inferior, splinter-ridden chopsticks. If you do encounter splinters, be discrete about rubbing the sticks together to remove them.
- Don’t cross your chopsticks on your plate. Place them side-by-side at the bottom of your plate. If you remember, try to point the tips to left if you’re right-handed; vice versa if you’re left-handed. As general rule of thumb, chopsticks should not be placed directly on the table or counter.
- Since soup is generally not served with a spoon, you can use chopsticks to remove solid foods such as tofu or meat.
- Waving your chopsticks around is like waving your knife around — someone is bound to get hurt, and it’s generally not good manners.
- Chopsticks should not be used to spear food.
- If you don’t feel comfortable with chopsticks, don’t be afraid to ask for Western-style utensils. While they may not be available, asking never hurts.