We’ve been seeing a lot of articles recently about how to use Japanese chopsticks correctly. For those of us who grew up using forks and knives, it may seem a bit silly to obsess over holding two sticks at the correct angles. If you plan on visiting, living in, or especially working in Japan at some point, though, it may be a good idea to get out a protractor and practice those angles to save yourself a lot of embarrassing moments with friends and coworkers later.

To help you out, we here at RocketNews24 have compiled seven facts about chopsticks to help you along in your quest for perfect Japanese table manners. Even if you’re a seasoned chopstick expert, you may learn a thing or two from our advanced-level tips.

#1: In Japan, everybody has their own personal chopsticks

It may sound strange to anyone who grew up in a household where you just used whatever silverware (or plasticware!) was placed in front of you, but in Japan it’s quite common for each member of the family to have his or her own personal pair of chopsticks. Dad has his big, manly ones; mom has her long, thin ones; the kids have Pokémon ones, and they’re all typically washed and reused every day. Use someone else’s chopsticks at your own risk.

▼ Pick the wrong ones and you’ll be using the spoon for a week.

personal chopsticksWikimedia Commons

#2: Most Japanese chopsticks are made of wood

As opposed to countries like Korea where metal chopsticks are extremely common, most Japanese chopsticks are made of wood. Wooden chopsticks are preferred since they don’t conduct heat (useful when you’re eating very hot food), provide a more stable grip, and are cheaper to produce. There are chopsticks made out of a variety of other materials, such as luxury chopsticks made of gold or silver, but the second-most common material is plastic, typically used for children’s chopsticks.

▼ Or for Pocky-shaped chopsticks to eat Pocky with.

8174507990_19e064cfc6_zFlickr (Yusuke Kawasaki)

#3: If the food is hard to pick up with chopsticks, bringing the bowl/plate up to your mouth is acceptable

The first time anyone is given a bowl of miso soup and a pair of chopsticks with no spoon in sight, panic usually takes over, but stay calm! You’re not expected to defy any laws of physics by picking up the soup with chopsticks; simply bring the bowl up to your mouth and drink. That may get you kicked out of some fancy restaurants outside of Japan, but here it’s expected. Feel free to do the same with bowls of rice, or anything else that doesn’t seem like it’d survive the whole trip up from the table to your mouth.


#4: Resting your chopsticks across your plate/bowl is a heinous crime

Resting your chopsticks across your plate/bowl is a big no-no in Japan. To Japanese people, it looks like a bridge over a river, specifically the Sanzu River, the Japanese river of the dead.

▼ You could say the Western equivalent is the River Styx… or River Chopstyx!


When you want to take a break from eating (or you’re being forced to take a break from eating), be sure to place your chopsticks on a rest with the pointed ends going up. If you don’t have a chopstick rest, there’s plenty of ridiculous ones to choose from, or you can make your own origami ones too.

▼ It’s also considered good form to place the chopsticks as close to you as possible, so no one else has to see your dirty utensils.


#5: There is an extra-fancy “two hand chopstick raise” that can be used to impress

Most people just grab their chopsticks with one hand and get right down to business eating, but if you really want to show off your skills, then give this little beauty a try:

You basically use your right hand to put the tips of your chopsticks into your left hand, rotate your right hand, then slowly raise both hands off the table. Doing so shows extra appreciation for the meal, and will have everyone nodding their heads approvingly at you while tears of joy stream down their cheeks.

#6: Wari-bashi (disposable chopsticks) are everywhere

When you’re out eating, the personal chopsticks go out the window and you just have to use whatever is available. Wari-bashi are extremely common in Japan, and you use them in restaurants, at picnics, at convenience stores, when you visit other people’s houses… basically anywhere imaginable. They’re notoriously difficult to break apart if you’re not used to it, so don’t feel ashamed if you have to buy a couple pairs to practice with in the privacy of your own home.

▼ Then when it comes time to break your own pair apart in public, channel your inner Osaka and give it your best shot.

#7: Using your own chopsticks on a communal plate/bowl will elicit gasps of horror

When people share a meal, quite often there will be one big plate or bowl that they all pick things out of. Whatever you do, don’t use your own wari-bashi to grab anything! Instead, use the pair of serving chopsticks provided to put the food on your plate, then use your own chopsticks to bring it up to your mouth. Our well-mannered reporter below will demonstrate using some delicious imaginary food.

And that’s all there is to it! You may now consider yourself an expert in Japanese table manners. Just follow the above, be sure to slurp your noodles and soup really loud, and you’ll probably start getting invitations to fancy Japanese dinners before you know it.

Images: RocketNews24