All About Japan

Not All Use Chopsticks the 'Traditional' Way

| Video , Life in Japan

As a society that thinks thoroughly about etiquette, Japan has a lot of ideas about proper table manners. As you might expect, that includes there being a correct way to hold chopsticks, as demonstrated in this video, in which the narrator directly says: "This is the correct way to hold chopsticks. Make sure you’re doing it right." Also as you might expect, the demonstration is presented by a cute mascot character, named Ohashi (Chopsticks) Man, who’s an anthropomorphized and unsplit pair of chopsticks.

To summarize the basics, you hold the top chopstick like you would a pencil, but with your thump extended straight at all times, and so that your middle finger moves in tandem with the stick. For the bottom stick, it should rest in the space between your thumb and palm, with extra support from lying across your ring finger’s foremost section.

However, in a recent episode of public broadcaster NHK’s Asaichi morning talk show, this technique wasn’t presented as "the correct way" to hold chopsticks. Instead, the presenters gave it a different name: "the traditional way."

Though Asaichi didn’t explicitly say why they specifically weren’t using the word "correct," it could have had something to do with the results of a poll (conducted in 2017 by NGO Children’s Lifestyle Research Institute) in which the majority of respondents, 50.5 percent, said they don’t hold their chopsticks in the traditional way.

With the survey being performed in Japan, where chopsticks are the default utensils for most meals, it stands to reason that the people not using the traditional grip are still managing to eat, and if the majority of the survey respondents are managing just fine without using the traditional grip, it gets a little hard to say what they’re doing is “incorrect,” even if it differs from preexisting notions on how chopsticks should be used.

Of course, with the value Japan places on tradition, some commenters also expressed their belief that even if it’s not the "correct" way, they still find the traditional grip to be the most sophisticated and elegant way to hold your chopsticks. It’s also somewhat unclear what the demographics of the NPO survey were, and given the organization’s focus on children, it could have been young diners or parents, who might be more forgiving of unpolished table manners than those having adults-only meals. Because of that, if you’re looking to make a good impression on all possible fronts when eating in Japan, accustoming yourself to the traditional grip is probably a good idea, but if for whatever reason you can’t, you can take comfort in the knowledge that not everyone is going to think that what you’re doing is "incorrect."

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