In Japan and other East Asian countries, people use chopsticks when eating different kinds of food. For many foreigners visiting Japan, this can be very challenging as it takes a bit of practice to learn how to properly hold the two sticks together to be able to successfully pick up food pieces of varying sizes, shapes, weights, and textures. Learning the important chopsticks etiquette is necessary too to not appear rude or impolite to others. The following are some examples:
NEVER stick your chopsticks upright into a bowl of rice.
In Japanese culture, sticking your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice is not a good thing because it is similar to an old religious practice done for the dead. In Shinto and Buddhism, the surviving family members and loved ones of the departed prepare bowls of rice that way as offerings. If you are not using your chopsticks, simply put the two sticks parallel to each other over your bowl or in the chopsticks holder.
NEVER eat directly from shared bowls or plates.
It is not good manners to take food from shared bowls or plates set in the middle of the table, and then directly put them into your mouth. The Japanese people see that as impolite and rude. If you want something from the shared bowls or plates, you should take it and place it on your own bowl or plate first, and then eat it as you like.
NEVER point your chopsticks to another person.
In Japan, it is common for people to engage in conversations while eating. Families use it as an opportunity to check on how each other are doing in school or at work, and friends to find out what everyone has been up to. However, it is advised to not use the chopsticks to point to another person on the table. It gives off a rude and impolite vibe, just like how pointing a finger at someone is viewed in other countries.
NEVER stab your food with your chopsticks.
There are many kinds food that can be a bit difficult to pick up using chopsticks. Examples are beans, whole boiled eggs, and greasy and slippery meat. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you have a boiled egg to eat but are unable to pick it up with your chopsticks after so many tries, do not stab or skewer it. Get a spoon or a fork. Using your chopsticks as a skewer is just impolite and rude.
NEVER leave your chopsticks crossed.
If you are not using your chopsticks, put them in the chopsticks holder or over your bowl, and make sure that you place one stick parallel to the other. Avoid leaving them crossed because the image the two crossed sticks create is related to Japan’s funeral and death customs.
NEVER lick your chopsticks.
Japanese dishes are some of the most delicious in the world, and it is not uncommon for foreign tourists to finish multiple servings or helpings when they eat out. However, even if it is the best sushi or yakiniku you have ever tasted in your life, it is not proper to lick every single bit of flavor off of your chopsticks. In Japan, licking the chopsticks is considered bad behavior and disgusting, and, it is highly likely that the other tourists will see it that way too.
NEVER bite your chopsticks.
Every time you put food in your mouth, you should not bite your chopsticks. Just use your chopsticks to push rice, meat, or whatever it is you are eating into your mouth. Leaving bite marks is viewed as ill-mannered and childish. This is an especially important thing to remember if you are not using your own pair of chopsticks.
NEVER look for specific ingredients in shared dishes.
If there is a particular vegetable or meat ingredient that you really love in a certain dish, you should not try to be the first person to get to the shared bowl or plate to dig for it before anyone else takes it. Being a picky eater in that sense is just classless, and it is better if you just order your own individual bowl or plate to not bother the rest of your group.
NEVER let oil, sauce, or other liquids drip from your chopsticks.
Be careful when eating dishes that have sauce or soup as your chopsticks might start dripping and make a mess on your clothes, on the table, and others. In Japan, chopsticks that are dripping liquids are viewed negatively as they are a reminder of tears and sadness.
NEVER hover your chopsticks over the dishes set on the table.
It can be difficult to select which food to try first if there are so many Japanese dishes set on the dining table. While thinking about which you should taste first, you should not hold your chopsticks over the table, going from one bowl or plate to another. You might be preventing other people from accessing the dishes that they want.
NEVER pass food from one pair of chopsticks to another.
Do not pass sushi or meat from your chopsticks to another person’s chopsticks because this is similar to a funeral tradition in Japan, in which the bones after a cremation are passed from one funeral worker to another, and collected in an urn. If you want to give someone a portion of your food, put it on the other person’s plate yourself or have them pick it up from your plate.
NEVER drum your chopsticks on the table.
If you are waiting for your food to arrive, and are starting to get impatient, do not start drumming your chopsticks on the table. This just creates unnecessary noise, and disrupts not only your companions but also the other people in the restaurant. While your food is not yet ready, just leave your chopsticks alone.