The Fourth Day of Kitsune – the Brief History and Use of Chopsticks

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series Twelve Days of Kitsune
A painting of a Japanese woman using chopstick...
A painting of a Japanese woman using chopsticks, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today we will learn an important aspect of polite society — chopsticks! Or, as they are known in Japanese, hashi.

Japan borrowed eating sticks, like so many things, from China, but like so many borrowed things, they modified them. Chinese sticks tend to be longer, because historically the Chinese ate from a shared bowl, while Japanese ate from individual bowls. This was due to Shinto beliefs regarding shared utensils and spiritual contamination, and the custom remains today that one’s hashi must touch only one’s own food. If one wishes to take food from a central or shared plate, the chopsticks should be reversed so that the unused end transfers the food to the new plate, and then the food is eaten normally.

(Photo credit: Robert of Fairfax)

Men’s hashi are longest; women and children traditionally use different sizes. This is true of hashi, the lacquered sticks, but not really for waribashi, the disposable sticks one might find in a fast food restaurant (like in the video below).

Chopsticks are used to grasp food, like pincers — never to stab it. Ew, what barbarism!

And I’m surprised to find some people actually believed this — chopsticks were never used as a hair ornament! The hair sticks in the elaborate hairstyles of later eras were completely different.

Spoons were used historically, but not as much as we might guess. Fingers were of course also a common implement, but “common” is the key word; well-bred people had better manners. And a kitsune in human form would be able to use them if provided, but he would not be able to request them—foxes cannot say the syllable shi, so he can’t ask for hashi!

Chopsticks are not nearly so difficult to use as many Americans try to make them! If you can write with a pencil, you can use chopsticks. I made a little video to help while dining with friends (and small children—enjoy the reality of it!).

Series Navigation<< The Third Day of Kitsune – Wordless Wednesday kitsune imagesThe Fifth Day of Kitsune — Dining with the Daimyou >>
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