Sunday, May 18, 2008

Hashi - Chopsticks

Chopstick etiquette
* Hold your chopsticks towards their end, and not in the middle or the front third.
* When you are not using your chopsticks and when you are finished eating place them onto the chopstick rest. Or if there is no chopstick rest place them down in front of you with the tip to left.
* Do not stick your chopsticks so that they are standing straight up. The reason for this is in Japan chopsticks are stuck into rice on altars for the deceased.
* Do not pass food with your chopsticks directly to somebody else's chopsticks. The reason for this is because at funerals the bones of the cremated deceased are passed from person to person in this way.
* Do not spear food with your chopsticks.
* Do not point with your chopsticks to something or somebody.
* Do not move your chopsticks around in the air too much, nor play with them (no drum solos).
* Do not move around plates or bowls with chopsticks.
* To separate a piece of food into two pieces, exert controlled pressure on the chopsticks while moving them apart from each other.
* Use the serving chopsticks/utensils to move food from a shared plate to your own plate. If there are no serving utensils use the opposite end of your chopsticks (the part you didn't stick in your mouth). The reason for this is fairly obvious to stop the spread of germs.
*Do not start eating until everyone has been served.
*Women should cup their other hand beneath their serving when using chopsticks when conveying food from dish/bowl to mouth.

Chopstick etiquette is pretty simple even though people do ignore/forget them occasionally (you know people will play with them, point with them, or take from the shared plates with the part that went into their mouths). It's not that different from and is simpler than the proper etiquette of using knives, forks, spoon, etc., seen in Western Cultures.

The Japanese do eat with knives and forks when eating Western foods like steak simply because those foods are Western and they would be very hard to eat with chopsticks. The Japanese also use spoons for foods that are difficult to eat with chopsticks like curry rice. While eating soups they drink directly from the bowl and use chopsticks to pick out the larger pieces or noodles.

While chopsticks can and have been made from many materials the most common by far is Bamboo because it is cheap, available, heat resistant, and has little noticeable taste or odor. The Japanese rarely use metal chopsticks for eating for two reasons; metal conducts heat and metal chopsticks are used after cremations to break apart the remains of the skull.

At home you will generally have your own chopsticks most likely made from lacquered wood that no one else uses. Quite a few people bring chopsticks every where they go and carry them in a special box called a hashibako.

Disposable chopsticks are called waribashi and are made from a single piece of wood joined at one end so that they can be broken apart. They are usually wrapped in paper with with the restaurants name and phone number on them. Though cheap restaurants or schools will have them bare. Some people break the disposable ones after using them because of a superstition that spirits can attach themselves to the discarded ones and make you ill.

Japanese chopsticks are slightly different from Chinese ones. Chinese chopsticks are usually 9 to 10 inches long and rectangular with a blunt end. Japanese chopsticks are rounded and come to a point. Japanese chopsticks are also shorter 7 inches long for females and 8 inches long for males.

Origin of Chopsticks: Chopsticks have been in use in general for at least 5000 years. The Chinese have been using them as main tableware for more than 3,000 years. By A.D. 500, chopstick use had spread from China to present day Vietnam, Korea, and Japan.

In the far past it is believed that people cooked their food in large pots which held heat for a long time and some impatient people would use twigs from trees to retrieve the food. By 400 B.C., because of a large population and dwindling resources, food was chopped into small pieces so it could be cooked rapidly to conserve fuel. The pieces of food were small enough that they negated the need for knives at the dinner table, and thus, chopsticks became staple utensils. It is also thought that Confucius, a vegetarian, advised people not to use knives at the table because knives would remind them of the slaughterhouse.

In Japan, chopsticks were originally used exclusively for religious ceremonies. The earliest Japanese chopsticks used for eating looked like tweezers and were made from one piece of bamboo that was joined at the top. By the 10th Century, chopsticks were constructed into two separate pieces as you see them now.

Picture 1 taken from Ranma manga of Ranma eating with chopsticks. Picture 2 also taken from the Ranma manga shows waribashi (disposable chopsticks) at Ukyo's restaurant.

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