Essential chopstick etiquette tips to know in Japan!

Chopsticks (or Ohashi in Japanese) are the main eating utensils in Japan. The Japanese use them to eat almost everything from rice and meat, to noodles, salad, and most traditional Japanese dishes.

Using chopsticks
Mastering chopsticks is an essential part of enjoying Japanese culture.

Like most countries around the world, Japan has their own cultural table manners and chopsticks come with their own etiquette. It would be useful to know these manners so when you visit Japan or have dinner with your Japanese business partners you don’t unintentionally offend them. Here are some basic rules to follow:

Holding chopsticks correctly

One way to show your politeness on the table is to hold and use chopsticks correctly and it is also a useful skill since most restaurants in Japan only provide chopsticks.
Here are the steps to follow when using chopsticks in Japan:

  • In your dominant hand, hold the first chopstick in a stable position between your thumb and your ring finger.
  • Place the second chopstick between your index finger, middle finger and tip of your thumb – similar to how you would hold a pen.
  • When you want to pick up some food, just move the second chopstick up and down with your index and middle fingers while keeping your thumb still.
  • Hold the chopsticks towards their end, not in the middle or the front third.
Sushi Maki
Properly handling chopsticks is an important part of etiquette in Japan.

It might not be easy at the beginning, but practice makes perfect. However, you may find other ways to hold chopsticks which are also acceptable, many people just use chopsticks in the way that feels most comfortable for them.
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Do not rub your chopsticks together

Rubbing your chopsticks together is seen as an insult in Japan.

In some countries, it is common to rub disposable wooden chopsticks together before use to get rid of any potential splinters.
However, if you do this in Japan, it may imply that you think the restaurant you are dining at (or the host) has provided you with cheap or low quality chopsticks – so this can be taken as an insult.
Try to avoid the action if possible, especially when you are invited to have a meal with a Japanese friend or family.

Do not stick chopsticks into rice vertically

Japanese chopstick
Sticking your chopsticks vertical in a bowl of rice is bad in Japan.

In Japanese culture, sticking chopsticks vertically into rice is traditionally done at funerals or as an offering to the deceased.
Therefore, if you stick your chopsticks upright into your rice it can remind people of death and is considered as disrespectful.
It is also thought to bring a bad luck too. So, avoid doing this during regular mealtimes.

Do not pass food from one set
of chopsticks to another

Japanese chopsticks
If it is necessary to pass food with chopsticks, it is best to place it directly on a plate so that they may pick it up on their own.

Passing food between each other using your chopsticks is something you should not do in Japan.
This is also related to funeral rituals, as the bones of the deceased are passed between people with chopsticks. When you pass food between chopsticks, it reminds people of this action.
If you want to share food or want to pass food to someone using chopsticks, you should place it directly on a plate so they may pick it up on their own.

Do not cross chopsticks

Japanese chopsticks
It is said that crossed chopsticks represent death.

Crossing chopsticks or placing them in an ‘X’ shape is a symbol of death, so you should avoid this while eating.

Remember to keep the chopsticks in a parallel position whether they are in your hands or placed down.

Use chopstick holder

Japanese chopstick
Hashi-oki (chopstick holder).

Many Japanese restaurants usually provide a chopstick holder. When you are not using your chopsticks, place them on the holder.
However, if they are disposable chopsticks, the holder will not be provided. But you can make one from the chopstick’s wrappers.
If there are none then place your chopsticks uncrossed on your bowl or plate.

Do not stab food with chopsticks

Japanese chopsticks manners
It conveys the message that you don't trust the chef to cook your food properly...

Never use one chopstick to stab or skewer food and bring it directly to your mouth. This is disrespectful and bad table manners in Japan.
Try to use both chopsticks at all times. However, even stabbing your food with both chopsticks is considered impolite.
Some people like to stab the food with a chopstick to check if it is cooked properly. This can also appear as an insult, especially when you have a meal with a Japanese family. It can imply as you do not trust your host to properly prepare your food.
So it is better to avoid stabbing food with chopsticks at all times.

Do not take food from a sharing plate using the chopsticks you have eaten with

Japanese chopsticks
Find another pair of chopsticks to take food from a sharing plate.

The reason is very simple, it is unhygienic to use chopsticks that have touched your mouth to take food from a sharing plate.
You may find a special cutlery is provided for sharing plates that you can use to transfer the food to your dish. In case of no sharing cutlery, you should use a clean pair of chopsticks to get food from the sharing plate.
If it is not possible, you can use the thick end of the chopsticks that has not touched your mouth to grab food from the plate.
This is still not 100% hygienic, but it is acceptable.

Other impolite manners to avoid

Japanese eating manners
Avoid major etiquette faux pas in Japan.
  • Do not hold chopsticks in your mouth. For example, putting your chopsticks in your mouth to hold them while your hands are full.
  • Do not lick, bite, suck or chew your chopsticks. You should not put and rest chopsticks in your mouth, it is unhygienic and considered to be rude.
  • Do not use your chopsticks to pull a dish towards you or use them to move plates or bowls around.
  • Do not eat directly from the shared plate. Take the food onto your plate, and then eat it.
  • Do not point with your chopsticks or wave them in the air.
  • Do not play with your chopsticks, hitting them against a dish, or tapping them against the table.