If you’re not good with chopsticks and think you can just use a fork when in trouble, you might find yourself in a difficult situation when you actually enter a restaurant in Japan. Sushi, ramen, udon, okonomiyaki, tempura—all of these are considered etiquette violations if eaten with a fork. It’s not uncommon for some places not to even provide forks.
Many people may have experienced using chopsticks when dining at Asian restaurants, and some might even use them regularly as they are available at local supermarkets. To ensure a smooth dining experience in Japan, it’s recommended to practice using chopsticks before your trip.
There’s a practice method with chopsticks where you pick up grains of rice or beans and transfer them to another plate. Even in Japan, some parents have their children do this exercise.
While it’s possible to have a meal without being skilled with chopsticks, you might struggle when eating dishes like ramen or udon. Personally, I feel that practicing with chopsticks is more important for travelers than studying Japanese language.
Let’s also explain some chopstick-related faux pas that you shouldn’t do. It’s often mentioned in guidebooks, but you shouldn’t stand your chopsticks upright. When I was a child, my mother used to scold me for sticking my chopsticks into rice. It’s considered bad luck as it reminds people of graves. Also, avoid raising your hand while holding chopsticks. Westerners tend to use big gestures while speaking, and they unintentionally wave their chopsticks around. I occasionally see it too. This is seen as bad manners by Japanese people. Make it a habit to place your chopsticks on the chopstick rest.
There’s no time like the present. Let’s go buy some chopsticks now. There are various materials and designs available, so just choosing them can be a fun experience.
While practicing, listen to the popular Japanese girl group NiziU’s song ‘Chopstick.’ Keep up the good work!