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It’s never too late to change bad chopsticks-holding habits

24 Comments
By Karen Masuda

Chopstick culture is something unique to Asia. Japanese chopsticks, or "hashi," are especially beautiful. Any foreign tourist can vouch for the allure of the hashi shop, a great place to linger and enjoy the attractive displays of hashi and their cases.

You would think that anyone living in Japan would get used to eating with chopsticks simply by using them over and over. Well, they do, but it may not necessarily be the correct way. There is in fact a proper way to eat with chopsticks, and even some Japanese adults — two in three people in their 30s, to be exact—continue to use them incorrectly

Using chopsticks incorrectly can make it more difficult to bring food to your mouth, and it just looks bad too. Fearing the Japanese national image may be at stake, a 33-year-old reporter with Nikkei.com decided to see if long years of mistaken hashi-holding could be fixed.

In a survey conducted by Meiji University of 8,000 people, it was found that only a third of people in their 30s were using chopsticks correctly. They also found almost the same statistic for 40 to 50-year-olds, showing that the correct usage of chopsticks is declining yearly.

The chopsticks should be held at two-thirds of the length up from the tips. The chopstick on top is moved up and down by your pointer and middle fingers while the thumb is used to support the process from the other side. The bottom chopstick should rest stationary on the tip of your ring finger reaching straight across back to the joint at the base of your thumb. In grasping food items, only the top chopstick should be moved up and down.

To pick the best length of chopsticksfor yourself, you can use the distance between the tips of your thumb and forefinger as a measure. A length 1.5 times that measurement is the ideal chopsticks length for you.

For instance, if the length between your thumb and forefinger is 14 cm, then the proper chopstick length for you would be 21 cm.

Even with all this detailed instructions, we are creatures of habit, so it is easy to fall into whatever way you get used to in holding your chopsticks, whether it be wrong or right.

Never fear! There is a remedy to all this improper chopstick holding. In Japan, there are over 350 schools nationwide that teach the proper way to use chopsticks. These are complete programs ending with a final exam to make sure you got it right.

The reporter talked to director Hisaji Nakamichi of Hashi Specialty Store Heizaimon, which runs many of the chopstick training schools. The store agreed to help straighten out our reporter’s hashi holding woes. They assured her that even adults can re-learn good chopstickusage if they have the will to try.

They promptly put her on a regiment of practicing moving one chopstickup and down with her forefinger and middle finger. After she got used to that the other chopstick was added and she could practice bringing the top hashi down to the bottom without moving the bottom one.

A rubber band was used to hold the forefinger in place. Holding hashi is actually the same way you hold a pen, so that practicing holding a pen properly for good penmanship also helps in holding your chopsticks right.

During all this practice, the reporter started wondering, what is the significance of holding hashi properly? She talked to a hashi research scientist, Associate Professor Yoshihiro Shimamura of Chiba University. It turns out that holding hashi correctly uses muscles in the fingers that help them to operate more efficiently. He also had his doubts whether the bad habit of holding your hashi wrong could be fixed after so many years of unorthodox usage.

Around about the time the training started taking its toll, our reporter was assured that if eating the proper way was causing her to enjoy her meals less and less, she should eat the way she was used to but keep up her practice on the side. “It won’t do any good to start making eating a difficult chore, please eat the way your are used to and enjoy your meals. We don’t want you to give up because it is too difficult!”

With that pressure taken care of, our reporter was soon able to bring the top hashi down to the bottom one without moving it a bit!

The final test taken in front of Nakamichi and consisted of eating a bento, or box lunch, filled with 15 different kinds of food. She grasped the round konyaku balls (jellied yams) with no problem. The 3-cm tofu square was picked up like a lark, while she broke the fried egg block and the boiled taro root into bite sized pieces before picking them up heedlessly.

The reporter’s final analysis was that it is nice to know that if you can hold a pen right you can also learn to use hashi properly. There is no need for despair, she knows from first hand experience that it is possible to re-learn genuine hashi holding at any age. All you need is the will to do it.

Source: Nikkei.com

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24 Comments
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There is less stability that way. I eat with chop sticks all the time. When you pick something up heavy like let's say a chicken wing. The stability is decreased this way I use my middle finger and thumb to move the top one and my ring finger hold the other one still.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have actually tried to fix my form but end up with hand cramps when I hold them "correctly." Agree with Moondog that hashi are better for salads. I sometimes eat pasta with them as well.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The article reads that this is a foreigner issue, but most Japanese I know use chops sticks wrong because Japanese learn to use chopsticks from a young age they develop bad habits, most foreigners I know can use them fine because they learnt from teenage years how to use them.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

In a survey conducted by Meiji University of 8,000 people, it was found that only a third of people in their 30s were using chopsticks correctly. They also found almost the same statistic for 40 to 50-year-olds, showing that the correct usage of chopsticks is declining yearly.

Is that really true? I believe I can use chopsticks correctly and most of my friends can do. If that is the case, what I think as right usage of chopsticks would be wrong.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"There is no need for despair"

I knew that!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

When first learning to use chopsticks before going to study in China years ago, I was told by Chinese and Hong Kong friends that one can generally tell a beginning chopstick user by the way they hold the chopsticks much lower down, sometimes almost near the tips. I can't imagine ever being able to really pick up anything that way, frankly.

Also, a fun game we students all played then with our new Chinese hosts & each other was to sit in a circle (like around a usual Chinese meal!) and pass one peanut from person to person to person around the table using only your chopsticks. Hard at first, after a while you really do get the knack of controlling the hashi so you don't drop the peanut.

Nowadays I find chopsticks pretty versatile and prefer them for most foods except those I really need to cut or spoon out.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

So if the same percent of people in their 30s, 40s and 50s are all using chopsticks incorrectly, how does that imply correct usage is declining?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Moondog: I am not bashing the use of chopsticks. I just think we have evolved a little more than that. I for one enjoy eating with chopsticks when I eat at my local Panda Express. I am just learning the Japanese language ( in Romaji of course ). I am way to old to try to learn how to write in Kanji. I am a great fan of the Japanese people and would never try to insult them. I have a penpal in Yamaguchi City who is teaching me Japanese using Romaji. My sincerest apologies.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A smaller spoon containing ice-cream should not be dipped into and out of the mouth until the ice-cream is consumed.

This is why ice cream should be consumed in private.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

iczar wrote:

Amazing!! Thousands of years of progress and people are still eating with sticks.

LOL. I'll bet you think Japanese would be easier to read if they would drop kanji and use romaji, too!

Chopsticks are not the best tool for all food but they are best for many or most types of food. Take a typical garden salad--using a fork just doesn't make sense.

But on topic ... I taught high school in Japan back in the 80's and was surprised during school festivals, etc., when I saw the students using chopsticks like they were spoons, or something.

I couldn't let that stand so the students, in their turn, were surprised to find themselves being taught how to use chopsticks by a foreigner. This was back in the days when Japanese were surprised just to see a foreigner walking down the street and kids would point and yell Harro.

The students I taught would be in their 30's and 40's now but they are in the 2/3rd's who do know how to use chopsticks. ;-)

I had fun later, by the way, during a teaching staff dinner when I got the usual "you use chopsticks very well" comment. I resisted saying "I see you use spoons well, too" and instead just said "Well, I've been using chopsticks for many years. And, in fact, I've been teaching my students how to use them, too."

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Amazing!! Thousands of years of progress and people are still eating with sticks.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

What a load of bollocks!

God I love it when fellow Brits post in such a clear, concise manner ^_^

Like everyone else, as long as I don't send my squid balls pinging away I'm content to get the food from the plate/bowl to my mouth without making a total prat of myself.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

What a load of bollocks! everyone has differently proportioned hands. mine are big (26cm span), I have never come across a Japanese person with bigger hands than me, so how could they tell me what is best for me? With big hands holding the chopsticks with the two fingers on the top stick - bottom stick on the ring finger - it is rather awkward and uncomfortable. With my big mitts, holding with my index finger running the length of the top stick and the bottom stick resting on my middle finger, it is so much easier, more comfortable and gives me a lot more dexterity and control. Got little hands? put on some ski gloves and then pick up some chopsticks, you might see where I coming from. I can use my chopsticks with equal dexterity (or should that be equal sinisterly ;-)) in the left hand...using them wrong? bah humbug - that's like telling unorthodox major league pitcher Tim Lincecum that he's pitching wrong.

The writer of this article has really put oun some pearler stories of late, huh?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Having given it more thought, Shirty is correct. Not surprisingly, the same could probably be said for proper use of knives, forks and spoons. The knife should not be used to transfer food to the mouth, spear food to be nibbled from the outside edge toward the blade or dipped in honey to adhere small items such as peas. A fork should not be held in a tight first, used as a stabbing instrument or like a spade. The spoon is not a shovel, nor should the entire spoon be fit into the mouth. A smaller spoon containing ice-cream should not be dipped into and out of the mouth until the ice-cream is consumed. And so on. The various nuances of correct chop-stick use are every bit as vital.

Again, as Shirty points out, using chopsticks is very real & very serious. After all, manners are all that separate us from the beasts. And with all the slurping, sniffing, coughing, expectorating and other bodily noises one human being can produce, the correct use of chopsticks (and perhaps also cutlery) may be the last bastion of what sets homo sapiens apart.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Guide for the efficient use of an inefficient device!

People only have themselves to blame for their own incompetence.

Don't hate. The world's slowest cheetah still beats the fastest human, after all.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@philly1 - using chopsticks properly is very real & very serious... and don't call me shirly.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

it was found that only a third of people in their 30s were using chopsticks correctly. They also found almost the same statistic for 40 to 50-year-olds, showing that the correct usage of chopsticks is declining yearly.

Huh?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Guide for the efficient use of an inefficient device!

People only have themselves to blame for their own incompetence.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Guide for the efficient use of an inefficient device!

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Next lesson....how to use your mouth properly.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Here's an idea - use a fork.

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

Brilliant! Very funny! Where are the credits to the original publication? This piece first appeared in The Onion, correct? http://www.theonion.com/ I has to be a spoof or sarcasm. It can't be for real, surely.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Dennis beat me to it. I hold the chop sticks about half way down and I can eat everything bar soup with my style without a problem. And really, does anyone actually care?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

If you can use chopsticks to put food in your mouth without dropping it, then you are using it correctly!

6 ( +7 / -1 )

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