Chopsticks: The Japanese Story

The Story and Styles of the Japanese Chopsticks

Chopsticks’ prominence in Asian culture proved that it can transcend the boundaries of food. This phenomenon is not just an Asian thing, the sticks are popular the world over and all know that they are of Chinese origin. They appeared around 1200 BC, maybe even earlier, made of bronze and mainly for cooking, reaching into boiling pots of oil or water. By 400 AD, people started eating with chopsticks and then by 500 AD had spread all over Asia.

Around this time, China’s population expanded and struggled – there was less fuel to get and so less fire to make. Cooking had to be done quickly to save more and so food had to be cut up to cook faster. With bite sized food, how else could you pick it up to eat? Chopsticks! Besides, Confucius believed that sharp utensils like knives symbolized violence and didn’t go well with joy and contentment.

Chopsticks appeared in Japanese records in 712 AD but might have been in used earlier. The Chinese brought their culture to Japan via Korea, and the chopsticks also made the crossover. They were used initially in Japanese ceremonies, made of bamboo and joined at the top. Gradually, they were found in homes, maybe about the 10th century, used separated for eating on a regular basis.

The Japanese chopsticks are usually shorter (9 inches) than other chopsticks and taper to a fine point. Traditionally of bamboo or wood and are often lacquered, they come in child and women sizes. Chinese chopsticks are longer and thicker than both Japanese and Korean chopsticks. Their sides are rounded or squared and their tips blunt or flat, and made from many materials, usually melamine plastic or lacquered bamboo.

The 17th century saw the lacquered wood tradition began in Japan, and in 1878, the country produced the world’s first disposable chopsticks. Who uses the most chopsticks? China is responsible for using 45 billion disposable chopsticks a year. Japan is about half at 24 billion. But chopsticks can also be fancy and extravagant – there’s jade, gold, ivory, or silver chopsticks. Kyoto is considered the center of chopstick design, while nearby Obama, Fukui Prefecture is the production site of 85% of the country’s chopsticks.

Not Japanese Enough Without Chopsticks

Now you know more about the journey of the unassuming chopstick and how it became a cultural phenomenon. Here at I Love Sushi on Lake Union, note your lunch or dinner tasting a lot more flavorful with those sticks in hand.