Ah, yes, those damned chopsticks! Why can’t they use a knife and fork like everyone else?!

I know, I know. It takes a bit of practice to get used to using chopsticks but if you go to Japan it is hard to avoid not using them. The Japanese clearly understand the balance and dexterity necessary to use chopsticks properly, and if you are at somone’s home or in a restaurant you may be given a knife, fork, or spoon to assist you. However, it is worth spending some time at your own home practicing with chopsticks before you go to Japan. Once you get the hang of it, it feels very cool to be able to dine on sushi and other wonderful Japanese delights using chopsticks. It gives you a feeling of being a part of the culture and it is something nice to share with your fellow diners. You will also get a few “oohhs and aahhs” from your fellow diners as they admire your chopstick skills, which is always good for an ego-boost now and then!

Chopsticks come in 2 styles:  “normal” chopsticks and wooden chopsticks. The normal chopsticks are usually found at home and in the medium-level to higher-level restaurants. The wooden chopsticks are the cheaper variety and can usually be found in the less expensive restaurants. Wooden chopsticks come in paper wrappers (with instructions printed on the outside on how to use them) and once you tear open the wrapper you “pop” or “snap” the chopsticks apart. If you are lucky, the chopsticks break apart perfectly but if you are like me they don’t and you sometimes get slivers in your fingers if you’re not careful!

Using chopsticks is your first challenge. The second challenge is not dropping them on the floor. How many of my chopsticks have landed on the floor…I cannot begin to count! For some reason I always felt like a clutz whenever I dropped a chopstick. I would mutter/curse in embarrassment and suddenly a server would appear with a brand new pair and a look of sympathy and understanding. I would thank them and quickly dive into my meal, praying I wouldn’t drop them again.

An important health point: if you want to use chopsticks to take food from a plate, use the opposite ends. Do not use the same ends as the ends you put in your mouth – yecch! It is just like “double-dipping.” A few more points: do not point with your chopsticks; do not pass food with your chopsticks; do not stick your chopsticks into your food.

Actually, chopsticks are not all that bad and once you get used to them you will quickly adapt and they will become part of your daily routine. Indeed, once you get back to Canada you may even miss them! My favorite part of the chopsticks is their design. The Japanese department stores sell the most beautiful chopsticks imaginable. And what may be even more pretty are the wide varieties of chopstick holders. I have seen all kinds of chopstick holders – from butterfly designs to sumo wrestler designs! They make a great souvenir too: very Japanese and very easy to slip into your suitcase.


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