Chopstick culture is something unique to Asia. Japanese chopsticks, or hashi, are especially beautiful. Any foreign tourist can vouch for the allure of the hashi shop, a great place to linger and enjoy the attractive displays of hashi and their cases.
You would think that anyone living in Japan would get used to eating with chopsticks simply by using them over and over. Well, they do, but it may not necessarily be the correct way. There is in fact a proper way to eat with chopsticks, and even some Japanese adults—two in three people in their 30’s, to be exact—continue to use them incorrectly
Using chopsticks incorrectly can make it more difficult to bring food to your mouth, and it just looks bad too. Fearing the Japanese national image may be at stake, 33-year old reporter with Nikkei.com decided to see if long years of mistaken hashi holding could be fixed.
In a survey conducted by Meiji University of 8000 people it was found that only a third of people in their 30s were using chopsticks correctly. They also found almost the same statistic for 40 to 50 year olds, showing that the correct usage of chopsticks is declining yearly.
The proper way to use chopsticks is shown here. It is also important to choose the right length of chopsticks that fits your hand.
The chopsticks should be held at two-thirds of the length up from the tips. The chopstick on top is moved up and down by your pointer and middle fingers while the thumb is used to support the process from the other side. The bottom chopstick should rest stationary on the tip of your ring finger reaching straight across back to the joint at the base of your thumb. In grasping food items only the top chopstick should be moved up and down.
To pick the best length of chopsticks for yourself, you can use the distance between the tips of your thumb and forefinger as a measure. A length 1.5 times that measurement is the ideal chopstick length for you.
For instance, if the length between your thumb and forefinger is 14 cm, then the proper chopstick length for you would be 21 cm.
Children are taught from and early age on how to use chopsticks properly.
Even with all this detailed instructions, we are creatures of habit, so it is easy to fall into whatever way you get used to in holding your chopstick, whether it be wrong or right.
Never fear! There is a remedy to all this improper chopstick holding. In Japan, there are over 350 schools nationwide that teach the proper way to use chopsticks. These are complete programs ending with a final exam to make sure you got it right!
The reporter talked to director Mr. Hisaji Nakamichi of Hashi Specialty Store Heizaimon, which runs many of the chopstick training schools. Mr. Kazushi Yoshida agreed to help straighten out our reporter’s hashi holding woes. They assured her that even adults can re-learn good chopstick usage if they have the will to try.
They promptly put her on a regiment of practicing moving one chopstick up and down with her forefinger and middle finger. After she got used to that the other chopstick was added and she could practice bringing the top hashi down to the bottom without moving the bottom one.
A rubber band was used to hold the forefinger in place. Holding hashi is actually the same way you hold a pen, so that practicing holding a pen properly for good penmanship also helps in holding your chopsticks right.
During all this practice the reporter started wondering, what is the significance of holding hashi properly? She talked to a hashi research scientist, Associate Professor, Mr. Yoshihiro Shimamura of Chiba University . It turns out that holding hashi correctly uses muscles in the fingers that help them to operate more efficiently. He also had his doubts whether the bad habit of holding your hashi wrong could be fixed after so many years of unorthodox usage.
Around about the time the training started taking its toll, our reporter met with Mr. Yoshida. He assured her that if eating the proper way was causing her to enjoy her meals less and less, she should eat the way she was used to but keep up her practice on the side. “It won’t do any good to start making eating a difficult chore, please eat the way you are used to and enjoy your meals. We don’t want you to give up because it is too difficult!”
With that pressure taken care of, our reporter was soon able to bring the top hashi down to the bottom one without moving it a bit!
The final test taken in front of Mr. Nakamichi and consisted of eating a bento, or box lunch, filled with 15 different kinds of food. She grasped the round konyaku balls (jellied yams) with no problem. The ３ cm tofu square was picked up like a lark, while she broke the fried egg block and the boiled taro root into bite sized pieces before picking them up heedlessly.
The reporter’s final analysis was that it is nice to know that if you can hold a pen right you can also learn to use hashi properly. There is no need for despair, she knows from first hand experience that it is possible to re-learn genuine hashi holding at any age. All you need is the will to do it!