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How to Use Japanese Chopsticks the Right Way

If you are reading this article, maybe you are having a business dinner with your Japanese counterparts soon. Maybe you have been invited to a Japanese family dinner. Maybe you are afraid to make a cultural mistake during your upcoming trip to Japan.

Worry no more! Here are the keys that will allow you to use chopsticks properly and have the perfect chopstick manners.

How to Hold Your Chopsticks Properly in Two Steps

Chopsticks (called “o-hashi” in Japanese) should be held about three-fifths of the way up from the pointed end. This is considered to be more elegant.

Hold the first chopstick—which will be the uppermost chopstick—in the same way that you hold a pen:

Hand holding one chopstick

Slide the second chopstick in under the first, resting it at the base of your thumb, then supporting it with your ring finger.

Hand holding chopsticks

Practice using the chopsticks, only moving the upper chopstick and being careful not to allow the chopsticks to cross over each other.

Mastering the use of chopsticks may take a little time. Do not worry if you are not very good at it: Japanese people will always appreciate your effort and compliment you on how well you use them.

The Keys to Good Chopstick Manners

There are a few things that you should never do using chopsticks! Some of them are taboo and might shock your Japanese counterpart if you do them. Others are just considered bad manners and a lack of education.

Here are the essential faux-pas to avoid in order to respect the Japanese chopstick etiquette.

1: Sticking your chopsticks upright in your rice (or other food)

This is probably the most important taboo. You should never do this because it is linked to death rituals. This is how rice is presented as an offering to the spirit of a deceased person.

Chopsticks stuck upright in a noodles bowl
Please do not do this.

2: Handing things over with your chopsticks

This is the second most important taboo. Never use your chopsticks to pass something to someone from chopsticks to chopsticks.

This is only ever done as part of the ritual during Buddhist funerals. After the body of a deceased person is cremated, the whole family handles the bones by passing them from chopsticks to chopsticks. 

3: Playing with your chopsticks

In many countries, children are taught not to play with their food. It is the same in Japan, but also with chopsticks. Do not use them as drumsticks or swords.

4: Indecisive chopsticks

Do not wave your chopsticks around above the plates. This is easy to end up doing, as you are deciding which dish to take from. It is best to first decide what you want to eat next, and then put your chopsticks in motion.

5: Digging into the food

Do not dig into the food to select only what you like.

6: Eating from a shared dish

When eating with other people, do not eat directly from the shared plates. Put food in your small personal plate, then eat.

A Japanese tavern table with many shared dishes and small plates
Put food in your small personal plate, then eat.

7: Pointing with your chopsticks

Do not point at something or someone with your chopsticks when you are talking.

8: Licking your chopsticks

Do not lick where there is still some food remaining. This is considered bad manners and children are often scolded by their parents when they do this.

9: Leaving your chopsticks in your mouth

Do not leave the chopsticks in your mouth while you are doing something else with your hands like picking up plates.

10: Spearing with your chopsticks

Do not use your chopsticks to spear your food rather than picking it up in the usual way. Chopsticks are not skewers, they are meant to be used like tongs.

Spearing is the most common mistake because some food can be hard to handle when you are not used to it.

11: Dragging dishes with your chopsticks

Do not pull a bowl or a plate to you with your chopsticks.

Japanese food on  table. Chopsticks ae laid on a chopsticks rest

12: Do not cross your chopsticks

Once you have finished using your chopsticks, do not cross them but place them side by side like on the above picture, preferably on the chopstick rest. It is also better not to cross them in your hand while you are using them.

Now you know everything about chopstick manners! If you have any comment or question regarding Japanese table manners, do not hesitate to ask us in the comments below.

Amélie Geeraert

Born in France, I've been living in Japan since 2011. I'm curious about everything, and living in Japan has allowed me to expand my vision of the world through a broad range of new activities, experiences, and encounters. As a writer, what I love most is listening to people's personal stories and share them with our readers.

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