Get a grip: Make an impression with good chopstick etiquette

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The proper way of holding chopsticks is shown.

By Yumi Miyaki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterHandling chopsticks correctly not only enables you to enjoy meals more, but also makes you look more refined and elegant while eating. Hisatsugu Nakamichi, a chopsticks instructor, introduces the proper way of using them.

Nakamichi has been working for chopsticks maker Hyozaemon since 2004 after retiring from a confectionery maker in Tokyo. He is in charge of workshops that are aimed at handing down Japan’s chopsticks culture to future generations. He has taught correct handling at elementary schools, kindergartens, nursery schools and other facilities across the country.

One of the characteristics of Japanese chopsticks, according to Nakamichi, is their pointed tips, which allow users to execute precise actions such as picking up small beans or cutting soft tofu and bringing it to their mouths.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Chopsticks of various colors and designs are seen on display.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Chopsticks come in various shapes.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

“By using chopsticks correctly, you can feel the texture of food through them,” Nakamichi said. “You can enjoy food by using all your five senses.”

Nakamichi recommends holding chopsticks around two-thirds of the way up from the tip so that you can use them in a well-balanced manner and move them easily. The upper chopstick should be held with the tips of your thumb and forefinger with support from the middle finger. The lower one should be secured between the thumb and forefinger, with light additional support from below by the ring finger.

Move only the top chopstick — not the bottom one. If you cannot avoid moving the bottom one, it is recommended that you practice by holding the bottom chopstick steady with your other hand and bringing the tips of both chopsticks together by moving the top chopstick alone.

It is also important to choose chopsticks suited to the size of your hand. Point your index finger out horizontally and point your thumb straight up vertically to make a right angle, and measure the diagonal distance between the tips of the two fingers. Chopsticks 1.5 times longer than that distance are most suitable for your hand.

Chopsticks with a polygonal cross-section, such as square or hexagonal, are available, as are chopsticks with an uneven surface. These features make it easier to pick up and hold food.

“There are other points to be noted when choosing chopsticks, such as weight, design and whether natural coating materials such as lacquer are used,” Nakamichi said. “I hope people will choose their favorite ones.”

There also are rules of etiquette on how to pick up chopsticks set on a table. Pick up the chopsticks with the right hand (Step 1), secure them with the left hand palm up (Step 2), adjust the right hand to the correct position (Step 3), and remove the left hand (Step 4). Using both hands like this is basic etiquette. When placing the chopsticks back on the table, follow the reverse order.

“Doing this in everyday meals may be difficult, but I recommend that you practice it. You will look very refined if you can do it in a formal occasion,” Nakamichi said.

Using chopsticks to pull a dish closer to you or stabbing them into food are bad manners. If you unthinkingly do such actions, you may cause discomfort for others.

“You may think it’s a bother, but you can be sensitive to others by minding your manners,” Nakamichi said. “So, it is recommended that you know the proper ways of using chopsticks.”

In many Japanese families, each family member has his or her own chopsticks, which is said to be a practice rarely seen in other countries.

Nakamichi carries his chopsticks in a pouch when eating out to use his favorite ones. He has two or three sets of chopsticks that are different in material or color. He chooses among them to match the menu and mood.

“Since chopsticks go into one’s mouth, I hope that everyone uses clean chopsticks carefully chosen for themselves,” Nakamichi said.

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