search Japan Podcast

JP06: Tapered Eating Utensils-Chopsticks-箸

And our food-focused shows continue with the ubiquitous Asian food utensil, chopsticks.

  • Chopsticks are the bane of some people’s existence
  • sticks for eating chops – isn’t ‘chop’ slang for food
  • but you can’t only eat lamb pieces with it
  • it may come from Chinese (ie, chop suey)
  • (Ed. just checked, yup, it seems to have come from Chinese Pidgin English, from the phrase ‘chop chop’ meaning ‘quickly’)

  • chopsticks are ‘hashi’ – typically women or businesspeople would use the more polite form ‘ohashi’
  • common in all of Asia
  • in Thailand they eat with chopsticks, knives and forks and their hands
  • Japanese chopsticks are relatively small
  • Chinese chopsticks are longer, rounded and thicker
  • Japanese chopsticks tend to be squarish
  • if you’re lucky, you can find the ones with a grip on the end
  • Terri is really good at chopsticks
  • Karamoon always used the Chinese ones at home
  • Korean ones are good for hidden weapons, metal, concealed on your person
  • in Japan there are cooking chopsticks, very long
  • there’s a lot of etiquette: don’t stick your chopsticks up in your rice bowl and leave them there, because they’re used that way in the funeral ceremony
  • it’s okay for other foods (brown rice? hmmm…)
  • don’t pass food from your chopsticks to other people’s, because that’s done with your loved ones’ bones in Japanese funeral ceremonies
  • we’ll do a funeral show at some point, but, moving right along
  • don’t hold your chopsticks in one hand while using the same hand to pick up a bowl
  • don’t gesture with them – that’s rude
  • don’t point at things with them
  • don’t use them to push dishes on the table
  • if you’re eating communally (which often happens in Japan), there may be chopsticks
    provided for the dish, or turn your own chopsticks around and use that end when you pick up food
  • chopstick culture adds a grace to the meal
  • in most restaurants, there’ll be chopstick rests
  • if you use wooden chopsticks (waribashi), fold the paper and use that as a rest
  • don’t rub your wooden chopsticks together in front of the host
  • the wooden ones aren’t environmentally sound as they (supposedly) are surplus scraps of bamboo that are just thrown away
  • some people carry theirs around in a little bag
  • of course, people use to carry around their own knives and forks in England: America too
  • it’s getting a little bit hip to do that
  • curry rice isn’t regularly eaten with chopsticks – it would take a long time
  • Chinese food often has a spoon as well: you can eat the soup with the spoon and the chopsticks for the top
  • if there’s no spoon, just grab the soup and drink it out of the bowl
  • chopsticks bring a feeling of dexterity to a meal
  • Karamoon thinks that the American approach to knives and forks is odd
  • Terri thinks it makes perfect sense
  • there’s no switching or dancing of the hands: Terri is so used to it that she can’t even describe it
  • discussion devolves into knife and fork culture…
  • peas may be a problem
  • chopsticks aren’t unusual in the West: Chinese restaurants are everywhere
  • always red paper cases with things written on them
  • New York is filled with culture and cultures
  • eating with chopsticks feels special, somehow
  • Japanese people politely tell you how good you are
  • it’s one of the many things that irritate foreigners: The dog is dancing, look!
    Oh your Japanese is fantastic! polite stock phrases: there’s lots of them in Japan
  • you can memorize a few stock phrases and get by
  • so, coming back to chopsticks: they can be really beautiful, even if you get them from a ¥100 shop
  • the carved wood designs are lovely
  • they can also be very expensive: even as much as ¥1000 or ¥2000 on a pair
  • watch the movie ‘Hanabi’ Takeshi Kitano uses it as a weapon
  • Terri has no filter for films like that
  • Karamoon will have to tell her the story
  • if you want to practice, try eating jelly with chopsticks
  • one of the reasons it can be difficult is people forget that the lower chopstick is not supposed to move
  • most restaurants here will give you a knife or fork if you need it: Fork o kudasai
  • but do try chopsticks as they lend an elegant feeling to your meal
  • and don’t use them as weapons, no matter what Karamoon says

  • Terri records the show on her iPhone3G. She mixed this time, too.
    image credit: Brittany G
    If you’d like the show to download into your iTunes automatically, click to subscribe (and please feel free to leave us a review on iTunes, or a comment below).

    Next show we’ll explore food & customs through a common eating venue; an izakaya.

    Today’s show:


    3 Responses to “JP06: Tapered Eating Utensils-Chopsticks-箸”

    1. Elizabeth Anne says:

      hey – you forgot that they’re a great slimming aid – my sister coming back from a year in China had lost 5 stones. When asked how she had managed to loose weight replied “you try eating with chopsticks for a year” :-)

    2. chingchong says: