How do Japanese People Hold Chopsticks? (+ Guide With Pictures!)
As long as you can get your food from the plate to your mouth, does it really matter how you hold your chopsticks? Apparently, if you ask many Japanese people, they will tell you that it does. Don't worry, This article will show you the proper technique, along with a trick to help you train!
Does it really matter how you hold your chopsticks?
This is what my Japanese wife told me the other night: "I don't care right now, but you can't use the chopsticks like that in front of our future children." "Huh? What do you mean?" I said, confusedly looking at the chopsticks in my hand. I had been using them that way my whole life without a single comment from anyone before.
Apparently, in Japan, there's a 'proper' way to use chopsticks, and my future kids will be looked down upon if they don't use the proper chopstick technique.
Tip: Don't argue with your Japanese spouse about the importance of chopstick technique!
I grew up in the U.S. and learned how to use chopsticks by looking at the instructions on the back of the chopsticks wrapper at the local Chinese restaurant. I guess I was a pretty weird kid because I started using chopsticks in my house to eat every meal, even as the rest of my family used forks and knives. After so much practice, I naturally grew quite proficient at using chopsticks, and I never stopped to think about if my technique was 'proper' or not. This is how I used chopsticks:
My "improper" chopstick technique.
See how I brace the bottom chopstick with my middle finger? That's apparently not the right way to use the chopsticks.
So, what's the 'proper' way to hold chopsticks in Japan?
The 'proper' way to hold chopsticks.
This is my attempt at what is considered to be the 'proper' or 'correct' way to hold chopsticks. The bottom stick is braced on the ring finger, and the top chopstick is held in a pencil grip.
Brace the bottom chopstick between the ring finger, base of the thumb, and side of the hand. It shouldn't move as you use the chopsticks.
Pinch the top chopstick between the tip of your thumb and your pointer and middle fingers. People say it's like holding a pencil (although I hold my pencil differently. Maybe that's why it's difficult for me?)
Use the chopsticks by moving only the top chopstick. It takes quite a bit of practice to be able to line up the tips of the chopsticks, and your hand will probably hurt while you're building up the muscles used for the motion. Keep practicing, and eventually, you'll get it! (I'm still working on it myself.)
Training tip: use a rubber band
Here's a tip I learned that helps when practicing to use chopsticks. Take a rubber band and twist it into a figure eight around your pointer finger and thumb, like this:
Insert the bottom chopstick into the same loop as your thumb, like this:
This will help to hold the bottom stick in place, even if your ring finger slips off.
Hold the top chopstick as usual and practice using the chopsticks like this. It makes it a little bit easier!
Using chopsticks is fairly tricky at first, but it gets easier and eventually, you might even prefer using chopsticks to using a fork! For example, I would now much rather eat a salad with chopsticks than by trying to stab through the greens with a clumsy fork!
When it comes to 'proper' chopstick technique, I'm still in the 'as long as it works, why does it matter?' camp. However, many Japanese people seem to disagree. Especially if you're thinking of marrying a Japanese person, I'd highly recommend getting your technique sorted out (so you can avoid being banished to eat dinner alone in another room, lest your children inherit your awful chopstick technique). Good luck!
If you're pretty handy with a pair of chopsticks, maybe you'd enjoy trying to catch noodles as they slide down a bamboo chute? Check out nagashi somen: