How to use chopsticks in four steps

how_to_use_chopsticks_titleUsing chopsticks in the right way is an important part of Japanese dining etiquette. Holding them in the right way is seen as an impossible task by many. Indeed, they are simple tools that are hard to master. This guide will give you a kickstart.

Table manners

When I first came to Japan in 2009 I was barely able to use chopsticks. I was able to work out how to use them rather quickly, so luckily, I survived. When I was staying at my girlfriend’s parent’s house for the first time five years later however, her father told me that I was using them wrong. I was holding them only with my thumb, index and middle finger, which is, as I then learned, not the appropriate way.

Using chopsticks wrong is like holding a fork with a fist – it makes you look unsophisticated, like a person that never received a proper introduction into table manners. Now, since you’re a foreigner, you probably indeed never received this introduction and will be forgiven. Nevertheless, being able to eat elegantly is a good way to respectfully honor the excellent Japanese cuisine.

So let’s have a look at how it should be done.

1. A solid foundation

The lower chopstick is the powerful foundation. During eating, it does barely move but provide a platform for the upper chopstick to push against.

The lower chopstick is placed on the ring finger, just bellow the fingernail. The base of the thumb pushes against it slightly so that it stays in position.

The lower chopstick is placed on the ring finger, just bellow the fingernail. The base of the thumb pushes against it slightly so that it stays in position.

2. The moving stick

The chopstick placed at the top is the one that does the movement.

The upper chopstick is placed with its rear at the base of the index finger and with its middle just bellow the fingernail of the middle finger. The top of the thumb fixates it.

The upper chopstick is placed with its rear at the base of the index finger and with its more front part just bellow the fingernail of the middle finger. The top of the thumb fixates it.

3. Move them

Move the top chopstick up by applying pressure with the middle finger and down by applying pressure with the index finger.

use_chopsticks

Notice that all the movement is done by the top chopstick.

4. Use them

Just like most things you have to practice. For example try eating some rice. You will notice that the further back you grab the chopsticks, the more rice you can pick up.

eat_rice_with_chopsticks

Also, try to separate some meat patty (ハンバグ) or fish. I found this the most difficult, especially for the latter.

eat_hambagu_with_chopsticks

Extra: Learning the right amount of pressure

For me it was difficult at first to apply the right amount of pressure when eating and my hand often felt stiff after larger meals. What I found especially useful was to grab the chopstick as far back as possible. This will give you the possibility to learn how little pressure actually is necessary to grab something.

Now, when sitting in a high class sushi restaurant for the first time, there will be one less thing you need to worry about and you are free to focus on the rest of Japanese dining etiquette.

5 comments

  • This is nicely explained! I would add that eating japanese food is a nice bonus.
    I have actually found out that I might be doing it the wrong way (as you were, until you were told so)!!!

    • Thanks Patrick.
      It definitely is, I love Japanese food too!
      I think most of the non-Japanese do it this way because it seems to be just more intuitive to us. At least it was to me 🙂

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  • In Bejing we were given a spoon to pick up some rests of rice – it was normal manner for all Chinese to use the spoon for that – and I was quickly told not to try it with Chopsticks . So is the spoon used for that in Japan as well sometimes?

    Thanks for the overview. I had to figure out the technique by myself some years ago – also by witnessing asian people eat – and trying to copy it. Never read such a clear explanation!

    • Thanks for the comment and the compliment Alex.
      There is no spoon. At least usually. And when there is one, it’s used for soups and the like.
      Best regards,
      Johannes

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