Using Chopsticks Properly In Japan (Things You Should Never Do)

Using chopsticks in Japan is second nature to those who live there. If you commonly eat out at an authentic Japanese restaurant, chances are, you have used chopsticks. If you’re visiting Japan and plan to dine out, you’ll want to ensure you know the proper etiquette in place for using chopsticks. 

The art of using chopsticks properly is not an extremely complicated one but is one that is worth learning properly.

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This is especially true if you are planning on visiting Japan. Japanese take their chopsticks etiquette seriously, and you can end up possibly offending someone easily if you don’t know these common chopsticks taboos. 

How To Hold Chopsticks Properly 

Trying to use chopsticks for the first time can seem overwhelming. There is a right way to hold chopsticks that will make eating your authentic Japanese food much easier. 

You want to take one chopstick and hold it between your thumb and your index finger. Pretend you’re holding it like a pen, but instead of holding it near the bottom, you’ll want to hold it from about one-third of the way from the top. 

Then you’ll take your second chopstick and have it resting in the crevice between your thumb and your pointer finger. It should travel down to rest on your ring finger.

Your ring finger and pinky finger should be supporting the chopsticks towards the bottom. You’ll know that you’re holding them correctly when the tips can touch by moving the chopsticks with the supporting fingers. 

When trying to pick up food, you should only be moving the top chopstick to open the chopsticks enough to pick up your food, then moving the top one to close the food between the top and bottom chopstick. 

Chopstick Etiquette

Just as there is etiquette in other cultures for how to dine politely, there is an etiquette for how to use chopsticks. Eating and sharing a meal in Japan is meant to be a special experience.

It is not meant to just be something you have to do to get nourishment. Therefore, respecting the etiquette in place for how to use chopsticks is important. 

Do Not Cross Your Chopsticks

Placing your chopsticks down in an X formation is done only during funeral services. It is not meant to be done at the dinner table. 

Some sets of chopsticks will come with a chopstick holder that you can place the tips of your chopsticks on so they don’t rest directly on the table.

If you don’t have access to this, you can place your chopsticks down at the side of your plate. Be sure that your chopsticks are sitting parallel to each other. 

Do Not Rub Your Chopsticks Together 

When you are given disposable chopsticks made of wood or another fibrous material, you typically have to break them apart in order to use them. After you do so, you want to avoid rubbing the chopsticks together. 

This is considered a disrespectful act towards the restaurant or shop owner, as it indicates you believe the chopsticks they are providing you are bad quality. If for any reason you see small splinters when you break apart your chopsticks, be discreet when you remove them with your napkin. 

Do Not Rest Your Chopsticks Upright Or Vertically In Your Food

The practice of sticking your chopsticks upright in your food is one that is specifically used in Japan for funeral services. In Shinto and Buddhism, it’s common practice to prepare bowls of rice as a way to honor and give an offering to your loved ones who have departed. 

Resting your chopsticks vertically in your food isn’t considered polite practice outside of a funeral service. 

Do Not Move Dishes Around With Your Chopsticks 

When you’re trying to bring a dish closer to you, you should pick it up with your hands. You don’t want to drag it across the table, and you especially don’t want to drag the dishes with your chopstick. 

This practice is considered poor etiquette, and it’s actually called yose-bashi. Doing this can create a lot of noise and it can also make a mess if you spill anything. 

Do Not Use Your Chopsticks As A Fork

It can be difficult to learn how to eat different dishes using chopsticks. It’s best to keep practicing so you can avoid getting frustrated and stabbing your food with the end of your chopstick as if it’s a fork. 

Stabbing at your food is also considered disrespectful, as your food was prepared with care and is meant to be enjoyed with respect. 

Do Not Share Food Through Your Chopsticks 

If you want to have someone taste something from your dish, have them pick it up from your plate with clean chopsticks, or pass it over to their plate with clean chopsticks. Don’t use your chopsticks to pass your food into their chopsticks. 

This practice is not considered polite, as it’s a reminder of a Japanese funeral tradition called watashi-bashi where bones are passed between funeral service workers after cremation. 

Do Not Point With Your Chopsticks 

Pointing in any capacity is considered an impolite gesture in Japan. Pointing with your chopsticks at people or at things is also rude. 

It might feel like second nature to point with your chopsticks as we often move our hands while chatting with people. It’s best to just put your chopsticks down when you’re talking if you are prone to hand gestures.

Do Not Use The Dirty End Of Your Chopsticks In A Sharing Plate

It’s very common to have shared plates when enjoying a Japanese meal, especially when you go to an all-you-can-eat restaurant. However, you don’t want to just go ahead and help yourself to a portion with the chopsticks you’ve been using for the rest of your dishes. 

You want to use a clean pair of chopsticks to transfer the food from the shared plate to your personal plate, and then use your other chopsticks to eat the food.

If you don’t have access to the second pair of chopsticks, flip your chopsticks over and use the thicker end to transfer the food to your own plate. 

Don’t Let Your Chopsticks Hover Over Shared Plates

When you’re trying to decide what food you would like from a sharing plate, make your choice before lifting your chopsticks towards it. You don’t want to let your chopsticks hover over the plates while you’re making up your mind. 

Not only will this prevent others from being able to grab food, but you are also running the risk of something accidentally falling off your chopsticks and into the shared plate of food. 

Do Not Play With Your Chopsticks 

It can be very disruptive to the people at the table and others in a restaurant when you play with your chopsticks like they are toys. This could include tapping them on the table or tapping them together. It’s also considered discourteous. 

Do Not Bite Or Lick Your Chopsticks 

It is not considered very civil to lick food off of your chopsticks or chomp into your chopsticks to get the food in your mouth. You should be letting the food slide gently off of your chopsticks into your mouth. 

If you notice any sort of sauce or something starting to drop off your chopsticks, you may be tempted to just lick it up.

You don’t want to let it just fall off your chopsticks, as this is also not good etiquette. Instead, just gently tap the chopsticks on your napkin or plate and then put them down.

How To Use Chopsicks Correctly In 7 Minutes

MT Lee
My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.