10 little-known rules for eating Japanese food

Japanese food

RocketNews 24 (by Michelle Lynn Dinh):

Japanese food, called washoku in Japan, has just been registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, but you didn’t need an official declaration to know that sushi and tempura are absolutely delicious. But while enjoying Japanese food, have you ever mixed wasabi and soy sauce as a dip for your sushi? Or how about using your bowl as a chopstick rest? If so, you’ve committed an etiquette faux pas. Take a look at our list of 10 little-known rules for eating Japanese food and save yourself some embarrassment while enjoying a traditional Japanese meal.

1) Never use your hand to catch falling food

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Cupping your left hand under your food to catch any falling morsels or drippings is actually bad manners. Using tezara (手皿), literally “hand plate,” may seem polite, eliminating any errant spills or stains on the table top or your clothing, but this common eating habit should be avoided when sitting down to a Japanese meal.

2) Avoid using your teeth to bite food in half

In general, you should always try to eat things in one bite and avoid using your teeth to tear food into smaller pieces. Since it’s impolite to place half-eaten food back on a plate, cover your mouth with your hand when chewing big pieces of food.

3) Never mix wasabi into your soy sauce

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This improper eating method is seen in many restaurants all over the world, but should be avoided. Instead, place a small amount of wasabi directly on the piece of sashimi and then dip the fish into the soy sauce.

4) Don’t invert the lid of your bowl

Inverting the lid of your bowl is mistaken as a cue for being finished eating, however, the proper cue is to replace the lid on top of the bowl, just as it looked when brought to the table. This is because you could damage the lid by turning it upside down.

5) Don’t place clam shells in the bowl’s lid or on a separate plate

shijimi clams

When served clams or other shellfish, many people tend to put the empty shell in the lid of a bowl or on a separate plate once they’ve finished the meat. This is actually impolite and should be avoided; diners should instead leave the shell inside the bowl it was served in.

6) Don’t hold your chopsticks before picking up your bowl

When eating a Japanese meal, you should first pick up the bowl or vessel you will eat from and then pick up your chopsticks. When changing bowls, first put down your chopsticks, then change bowls. Only after you have picked up the second bowl should you pick up your chopsticks again.

7) Don’t hover or touch food without taking it, and always pause to eat your rice

Mayoi bashi

Not sure which food to eat first? Hovering your chopsticks back and forth over the side dishes before finally choosing is a breach of etiquette. It’s such bad manners that the practice has an official name, mayoibashi (迷い箸), literally “hesitating chopsticks.” Touching a food with your own chopsticks and then pulling them away without taking anything is called sorabashi (空箸), or “empty chopsticks,” and should also be avoided. You better pause to eat some rice between those side dishes, if you don’t you are committing utsuribashi (移り箸), literally “transition chopsticks.”

8) Never rest your chopsticks across the top of your bowl

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You’ve probably seen this done so many times it seems like the correct thing to do, but using your bowl as a chopstick rest is a breach of etiquette. If you want to put down your chopsticks, you should do so on a chopstick rest, or hashioki (箸置き). If none are available, use the wrapper the chopsticks came in to make your own. If a wrapper isn’t available, you should rest your chopsticks on the side of a tray or other similar item on the table.

9) Don’t use the opposite end of your chopsticks to take food from a communal plate

Since the backsides of the chopsticks are where your hands rest, it’s actually not a very clean area and shouldn’t be used to pick up food. Asking the waitstaff for an extra pair of chopsticks or politely saying, jika bashi de shitsurei shimasu (excuse me for using my own chopsticks), and taking food using your chopsticks is actually the proper thing to do.

10) Never raise your food above your mouth

Many people raise their food to about eye level while saying, itadakimasu before eating. However, proper etiquette states that you should never raise your food above your mouth, the highest level your chopsticks ever reach.

***Bonus***

Many people already know this, but you should never raise chopsticks to your mouth that are dripping with soup or liquid and never stab food with your chopsticks. You should also never leave your chopsticks standing straight out of your rice or pass food between chopsticks as these are reminiscent of funeral customs and seen as a bad omen if performed anywhere else.

Everything you need to know about dining at a sushi restaurant—in handy infographics!

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RocketNews 24 (by Phillip Kendall):

Many of us dream of eating authentic sushi in Japan. But do you know the proper decorum for ordering? How about paying the bill? And what’s the difference between nigiri and narezushianyway?

The folks over at Swissotel Nakai Osaka have kindly shared with us a set of stylishly designed infographics designed to teach sushi newcomers everything they need to know about ordering, eating, and paying for Japan’s most well-known dish while in its homeland. Eating at a sushi restaurant isn’t nearly as complex as it may seem at first, but there are a number of dos and donts to be aware of, so it’s a good idea to study up before ducking beneath that noren curtain and stepping into a restaurant.

But before we order our first few morsels, let’s learn a little about the skills a sushi chef—or itamae—possesses and why they deserve our respect when we take a seat in front of them.

 

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Okay, so we know that the person behind the counter is not to be trifled with, but what to order when they ask what you’d like? The itamae will often recommend cuts of fish, or very often take the entire decision-making process out of your hands by serving up an omakase (lit. “leave it to you”) course, but you’ll still want to know what you’re dealing with. These are the main types of sushi you’ll encounter in Japan:

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So, you know what you’ll be eating, but you don’t want to unknowingly commit some sushi faux pas before you’ve so much as taken a seat. Here a few tips for entering and taking a seat at a sushi restaurant:

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Especially in pricier establishments, diners should also be aware that wearing strong-smelling perfume or cologne is a big no-no. People in Japan usually wear much less perfume than in the west anyway, but sushi is all about delicate flavours and balance—no one wants to have their unagi upset by the dude who doused himself in Nightswept, so think twice about going for sushi if you gave yourself a generous spritz before leaving the hotel.

Now for the fun part! Your sushi is right in front of you and you’re mouth is watering at the mere sight of it. But before you grab your chopsticks, take a moment to think about what you’re eating—if it’s sashimi chopsticks are of course required, but for most sushi it’s actually considered perfectly normal—and in some cases expected—to at with one’s fingers. Oh, and go easy on that soy sauce…

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What proper table etiquette looks like in East and Southeast Asia…

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Mashable (by Chelsea Frisbie):

Whether you’re planning an international trip or you’re headed to a local cultural experience, it’s important to learn about the eating habits of the folks you’ll be dining with. What might seem silly to you could be incredibly important to someone else, so don’t judge.

Langford’s silverware shop has compiled a collection of the dining “Do’s” and “Don’ts”…

Here is an excerpt of East Asian and Southeast Asian countries’ dining etiquette.

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Gaijin Tips: “Eat all your rice in Japan”

Check out this Gaijin Tip from video/blogger kanadajin3, who is actually named Mira and is “a girl who moved from Toronto, Canada to Tokyo, Japan.”

Eat all your rice in Japan. Leaving food behind is rude esp if it is rice bits. When you scrape food off your rice cooker, you need to take everything, leaving little bits is ruder than leaving a lot. If you just can’t finish your food that you got at a restaurant then you can leave some behind, but try to finish everything at home and at your friends house.

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The remarkable art of giving and receiving change in Japan

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RocketNews 24:

If you’re tired of receiving vacant smiles and flippant customer service at your local grocery store, you may want to make a trip to Japan, where the customer always comes first and every transaction is concluded with a graceful bow.

This remarkable attention to customer service even extends to the handling of cash transactions in shops around the country. Akin to an art form, a simple payment to a store clerk in Japan will inevitably set off a series of steps and precise movements to satisfy the needs of both parties and respectively complete the exchange. Come with us as we take you through the steps of a simple transaction in Japan. The attention to detail and the clever reasons for it will surprise you.

The easy-to-follow pictograph above was created by Twitter user @M_Shiroh, who was so impressed with the cashier’s skill on a recent trip to the supermarket that they decided to document the details of the exchange.

Next time you make a purchase in Japan, make note of the way the cashier handles your change. If they’re good at their craft, you’ll receive your money in the following order and with a sense of gravitas befitting royalty.

1. Counting your notes

In Japan, notes are adorned with portraits on one side. The cashier will hold out the notes with these portraits facing you and the notes will be parallel to a wall as opposed to the floor. Using two hands, the amount will be counted out verbally as they flick through each note.

2. Handing over your notes

The notes will then be handed to you in a neat stack with the largest one on the bottom. When you put them in your wallet, your notes will now be in order from lowest to highest, making it more convenient for you when it comes to paying for your next transaction.

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3. Handing over your coins and receipt

Next, the cashier will fold your receipt if it’s particularly long, and then place the coins neatly on top. By doing this, the receipt will protect the palm of your hand from coming into contact with any coins. You’ll then be able to slide the small change easily into your coin compartment and either return the receipt into the special box that’s often provided on the counter or slide it into your wallet. Cue graceful bow and you’re on your way!

Not only is this a wonderful way to treat the customer and ensure there are no mistakes or disputes, it’s also a great way to keep long queues moving quickly.

Top 10 puzzling things that Japanese people do

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RocketNews 24:

Wow you can use chopsticks?” “Your Japanese is really good!” “Geez, you’ve put on weight recently.” “It’s only 8:00 p.m., why are you going home?”

Anyone who’s been to Japan before has probably been bombarded by something similar to the above. Every country is going to have different cultural norms, but we decided to blow cultural sensitivity out of the water and just go ahead and list the top 10 things Japanese people do that puzzle us (but for some reason don’t stop us from thinking they’re still awesome to be around).

To create this list, we went through an extremely rigorous scientific process. Basically, we asked the non-Japanese staff at RocketNews24 to give us their opinions, and then we wrote them down and listed them. At some point numbers got put next to them. And now here they are:

#10. Japanese people are always taking pictures of food. Even airline food. Although I’ve started to do it myself too ever since I moved to Japan. (American male)

▼ To be fair, Japanese food does look like this.

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#9. They bring souvenir presents to everyone whenever they go to or come from anywhere. Americans sometimes give presents too, but the Japanese are on a different level. (American male)

▼ This isn’t a souvenir store, it’s my personal collection of souvenirs given to me by Japanese people.

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#8. In Singapore it’s pretty much summer all year round, so people go out shopping or whatever in T-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops. But in Japan when I do that, I get strange looks. Here, even in the heat of summer, you’ll see housewives decked in layers of clothes and makeup out just doing their grocery shopping. (Singapore female)

▼ Ah yes, the usual group of ladies turning Sunday shopping into an outright fashion show.

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#7. Scrunchies are seen as kind of childish back home, or a relic from the eighties, but in Japan women wear them all the time, even at work or when they want to dress up.(British female)

▼ Well, I think she looks fancy in it.

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#6. They always take their trash back home, since there’s very few trash cans and they’d never litter. That’s a good puzzling thing though. (Singapore female)

▼ This picture is banned in Japan for having caused too many shock-induced deaths.

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#5. When Japanese women carry bags, they sometimes do it with their palms out and facing up. If you saw someone do that in England, you’d think they were trying to act like a princess or something. (British female)

▼ Don’t forget your three P’s: Palm up, phone out, put a mask on.

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#4. Japanese women cover their mouths when they laugh. Uh, why? (British female)

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#3. They’re extremely conscious of differences in age and the junior/senior hierarchy that goes along with it. They don’t mind just straight asking you your age, which doesn’t happen often in my home country. (Singapore female)

▼ “Woah wait you’re how old?!” Which leads us to #2…

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#2. Japanese people are pretty frank when it comes to talking about people’s appearances, both good and bad. They have no problem calling someone chubby even when they’ve lost weight, only calling one of two sisters beautiful, and so on. (American female)

▼ “These are my three daughters: Ugly, Not-So-Ugly, and The-Cute-One.”
“…well this got real awkward real fast.”

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And #1 is…

#1. They don’t accept any praise. Ever. No matter what. (Singapore female)

▼ “Oh no, I’m not smart at all. I’m really stupid. And I’m not cute either. At home my name is ‘Ugly.’”

View image on Twitter

Temple in Thailand plans separate toilets due to lack of bathroom etiquette by Chinese tourists

Wat Rong Khun, better known as the White Temple, is one of Chiang Rai’s most famous tourist attractions

Bangkok Post: 

One of northern Thailand‘s most famous temples plans to build separate toilets for Thais and other non-Chinese tourists, officials confirmed on Saturday.

Wat Rong Khun, better known as the White Temple, in Chiang Rai will add the new toilets as a solution to complaints about the lack of bathroom etiquette by Chinese tourists, temple officials told DPA.

Previously, the temple had banned Chinese tourists altogether after Chinese tour groups had left the toilets in a state of disrepair.

They had defecated on the floor, urinated on the walls outside and left sanitary pads on the wall of the bathrooms,” said an official who requested anonymity.

The temple’s designer, Chalermchai Kositpipat, said in a television interview that it was “impossible” for other tourists to use the bathrooms after the Chinese tours, so he would build new ones.

Reports of misbehaviour by Chinese tourists have become an increasing source of concern as their numbers swell. Last year, 4.62 million Chinese visited Thailand, accounting for 18.7% of all international arrivals, more than any other nationality.

In another recent incident, a tourist identified as a Chinese national kicked a bell at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai. A video posted anonymously online drew widespread condemnation.

In the short film, the man first posed for a photo with a row of bells before kicking one of them while laughing as he left the sacred grounds. Reports of tourists in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai relieving themselves in public have prompted further complaints.

In response, officials have come up with an etiquette manual in Chinese on how tourists should behave in Thailand.

Meet Sara Jane Ho, the woman teaching manners and etiquette to China’s elite

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Next Shark: 

Last month, we highlighted a short series by GQ titled The Bling Dynasty that covered China’s blossoming culture of the newly rich and the hurdles their society faces with so many instant millionaires and billionaires popping up everywhere.

One of those challenges has to do with knowing how to act rich. They are called tuhao, which roughly translates to “the rich but uncultured of China.”

Tuhao can buy luxury supercars, yachts, private jets and designer clothes like candy, but they struggle to pronounce anything in French, they don’t know how to use a fork and knife properly, how to dress fashionably or how to really spend their money, so they look to guidance from the continental culture that invented the highest form of class known — the West.

From the perspective of most Westerners (and GQ journalists), it’s almost too easy to poke fun at China’s newly rich and their peculiar idiosyncrasies, but there is a much larger context that most are either historically unaware of or unable to directly mention due to current politics.

China is one of the oldest civilizations this planet has ever seen, withstanding the test of time virtually unchanged for thousands of years. However, nearly a century ago, their imperial system had rotted from the inside out and was overthrown by a new regime. In 1949, the People’s Republic of China was established by an anti-imperialist named Mao Zedong. In 1966, he launched the Cultural Revolution, a 10-year counter-revolutionary movement that was marked by violent class struggle, street executions, labor camps, book burnings and the destruction of thousands of years’ worth of cultural treasures and knowledge. China’s old-world culture had essentially been erased, and the cult of Mao Zedong became the new school. This new culture started from nothing but proletarian struggle, and not until China’s open door policy and economic boom of the 1980s did their lack of old-world values become most apparent.

That’s where Sara Jane Ho comes in, but for business and marketing purposes, she’s simply known as Sara Jane. Educated on the American East Coast and polished at a Swiss finishing school, Ho founded the Institute Sarita, an etiquette school based in Beijing where she holds courses for China’s wealthy on how to fill the shell of elite status their newly found money has created for them.

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For about $15,000, wealthy Chinese, mostly women, take part in a 12-day course that consists of lessons like “Introduction to the Noble Sports,” “Pronunciation of Luxury Brands,” “British Afternoon Tea,” “Lingerie Lesson” and “Introduction to French Cuisine.”

We had the pleasure of interviewing Sara Jane over email, where she answered some questions about her clientele and how she is bringing old-world European class to modern China’s newly rich.

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Tell us about your background and how you ended up going to school in the U.S. and later to finishing school in Switzerland.

“I grew up in Hong Kong but felt constrained by the environment and schooling there, so as a teenager I left to attend boarding school at Phillips Exeter Academy. I felt that the States better suited my personality. I went on to Georgetown and after a stint of banking to HBS.

Some girl friends of mine had attended Swiss finishing school and I myself have always had a passion for hosting; I enjoy bringing people together and making new friends. The course at finishing school is on how to be a hostess: how to greet and take care of others, including table conversation, table seating, flower arrangement, deportment, gifting, afternoon tea, planning a menu, etc.”

What was the greatest challenge for you in growing Institute Sarita? What’s the most valuable lesson for business or dealing with people that you’ve learned since launching?

“A school is an old-fashioned business. I’m not a tech company that’s going to IPO in three years! I’m a brick and mortar kind of girl; I like laying the foundation and growing slowly but steadily. We currently have one school, in Beijing, and 80% of our clients fly from all over China just to take the course. We are very high end and a boutique, so scaling will be the greatest challenge in growing the business.

A mentor taught me that ‘in China, slow is fast.’ I decide and execute quickly – sometimes too quickly – but the highest realms of business are like taichi. Slow and deliberate. The Chinese way to deal with problems are to postpone them for as long as possible!”

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Do you feel there are facets of Chinese culture or history that may be responsible for China’s “lack” of modern etiquette?

“It’s important to remember that Chinese etiquette is thousands of years old. Confucius first taught us his values 2,600 years ago.

Recent history in China has led to some lost culture and values which we hope to bring back. Now that China is becoming an economic and political power on the global stage, Chinese need to better understand the rest of the world and let the world better understand China.

It’s also important to remember that no other country has gone through so much change in so short a time. We need to be patient.”

Do you think your courses allow your clients to “buy” class? What kind of mindset do you want your students to take away from your classes?

“Chinese are adopting a higher measure of quality of life. They have deeper desires, hold themselves to higher standards, and want to earn the respect of others – these are all indicators of social progress. My course is not for people to ‘buy’ class; etiquette is about how to put people around you at ease.”

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Do you believe successful people today exercise the amount of propriety you teach your students?

“Not necessarily! Career success does not necessarily mean one has good manners! Although manners and high EQ do help one’s career.”

Is there a single most “bad habit” you find yourself having to correct with your clients? What other behaviors perturb you the most?

“My students are actually very sophisticated and considerate individuals. I believe this is the biggest misconception of them. We are not a basic etiquette school, but rather an elegant finishing school. Princess Diana went to Swiss finishing school not to learn not to spit, but how to be a hostess and take care of others. There is no ‘bad habit’ or behavior that ‘perturbs’ me.”

It seems you teach etiquette to only female clients. What about men? Can you list off some things you think men in Chinese culture should change to follow proper etiquette?

“We have a men’s course but our specialty courses are for ladies: debutante for unmarried women and hostess for married women. If you look at finishing schools and charm schools in Switzerland or the USA, it is traditionally for women. I think all men all over the world could benefit from attending etiquette school!”

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Can you tell us about your passions outside of the world of business and etiquette?

“I have begun collecting contemporary Chinese art and am a young patron of the Ullens Centre of Contemporary Arts in Beijing.

I am also a competitive horse rider in Beijing’s show jumping circuit and competed in the Longines Masters in the National Olympic Stadium (Bird’s Nest) last year.

I find that spending time up close and personal with my horse renews my sense of wonder. When work gets busy with my school or social events, I simplify my life by spending time in nature with my horse. Riding is so old fashioned and there is a charm about it. I love the smell of the stables – it calms me and I am reminded of my childhood.”

Do you have plans to develop Institute Sarita further and expand?

“In May 2015, we will launch our second school, which will be in Shanghai. It is in a beautiful old villa in the French Concession and I am going through the plans with my designer right now. It will be a similar set-up to Beijing, with a concept store attached to the institute. So I am looking for cool products overseas to bring to the Chinese market!”

Link

Design History: How chopsticks were invented

 

How Chopsticks Were Invented

Created roughly 4,000-5,000 years ago in China, the earliest versions of something like chopsticks were used for cooking (they’re perfect for reaching into pots full of hot water or oil) and were most likely made from twigs. While it’s difficult to nail down a firm date, it would seem it wasn’t until around 500-400 AD that they began being used as table utensils.

One factor that contributed to this switch was a population boom across the country. Consequently, resources, particularly for cooking, became incredibly scarce. As a result, people began cutting their food into tiny pieces so it would cook faster.

The bite sized morsels rendered table knives obsolete, as there was very little left to cut. However, they were now perfect for eating with chopsticks, which were also made from cheap materials and easily made. Thus, a trend was born.

The table knife’s decline in popularity in these regions at this time can also be attributed to the teachings of Confucius, who was a vegetarian. He believed that knives weren’t appropriate to eat with. As Confucius supposedly said,

The honourable and upright man keeps well away from both the slaughterhouse and the kitchen. And he allows no knives on his table.

It was due to this that it’s believed that Chinese chopsticks are traditionally blunt at the tip and thus somewhat poor choices to try to spear food as you would with a fork.

Within about a century of this, chopsticks had migrated to other Asian countries, such as Japan, Korea and Vietnam. One distinct difference between Japanese and Chinese chopsticks was that the former were made from a single piece of bamboo that were joined at the base. In addition, Japanese chopsticks were originally used solely for religious ceremonies. Regardless of their differences, chopsticks remained popular in both countries and are still the primary utensil of choice.

While the early chopsticks were more often than not made of some cheap material, such as bamboo, later silver chopsticks were sometimes used during Chinese dynastic times in order to prevent food poisoning. How? It was believed that silver utensils would turn black if they came into contact with any life threatening toxins. Unfortunately for those engaging in this practise, silver doesn’t turn black when it touches the likes of cyanide or arsenic, among other poisons. However, it most definitely can change colour if touched by garlic, onion or rotten eggs – all of which release hydrogen sulfide which reacts with the silver causing it to change colour.

For anyone that has ever had difficulty eating rice with chopsticks, you may have wondered why anyone would choose this particular utensil for consuming such food with. Perhaps one of the earliest of table utensils, such as the spoon, would work better here. But you see, in Asia, the majority of rice is either a short or medium grain variety often with starches that are particularly gummy or clumpy. As such, it sticks together and is quite easily picked up by chopsticks. In comparison, many Westerners eat long grain rice (often highly processed) with is much fluffier and the individual grains are more distinct and for the unpracticed hand, difficult to eat with chopsticks.

Bonus Facts:

  • Ancient spoons in China also sometimes featured a pointy end to be used as a one prong fork / knife… perhaps the first known instance of the spork or spnife, depending on how you want to look at it.
  • The ruins of Yin provide both the earliest examples of Chinese writing as well as the first known chopsticks. They were a bronze set that were found in one of the tombs at the site.
  • Traditionally, Chinese chopsticks are made from wood or bamboo that’s unfinished. In comparison, Japanese chopsticks are traditionally finished.
  • Chopstick etiquette is also a highly important factor in Asian cultures and history. They can also vary greatly from country to country and from person to person, but in general:

In traditional Chinese culture, it’s poor etiquette to: 

  • Spear your food with your chopsticks.
  • Dig around in your food for a particular item. This is referred to as “digging your grave” and is considered extremely rude.
  • Tap your chopsticks on the edge of your bowl. This is what beggars do to attract attention.
  • Children to hold their chopsticks incorrectly, as this will reflect poorly on the parents.

In Japanese culture , it’s poor etiquette to:

  • Cross your chopsticks on the table.
  • Stick your chopsticks vertically in rice, as this is a practise reserved for funerals.
  • Transfer food from your chopsticks to another persons.

In Taiwanese culture, it’s poor etiquette to:

  • Bite on your chopsticks or to let them linger in your mouth for too long.
  • Use your chopsticks to pick up contents from a soup bowl.
  • Place your chopsticks on the table. You should either use a chopstick rest or place them across the top of your bowl.

In Korean culture, it’s poor etiquette to:

  • Pick up your utensils before your elders.
  • Brings your bowl closer to your mouth to eat.
  • Use chopsticks to eat rice unless you’re someone considered lower class. Spoons should be used instead.

In Vietnamese culture, it’s poor etiquette to:

  • Place you chopsticks in the shape of a V once you’ve finished eating. This is considered to be a bad omen.
  • Pick up food directly from the table and eat it. The item should be placed in your own bowl first.
  • Place your chopsticks in your mouth whilst choosing food.

Check out this link:

Design History: How chopsticks were invented