Discover eco-friendly eating utensils with the Japanese “My chopsticks” phenomenon.

How high do you rate on the global foodie scale? Are chopsticks par for the course for you, or do they send you into a cold sweat? Have you ever had an embarrassing chopstick moment? If so, don’t worry, you’re not alone— the good news is that using chopsticks gets easier with practice. In Japanese, chopsticks are called hashi (箸), and knowledge about hashi use can act as a bridge to understanding broader Japanese culture, which is convenient, since hashi is a homophone for “bridge” (橋). To the foreign ear, the words sound pretty much the same, with just a slight difference in intonation. So let’s follow this path into the heart of Japanese culture.

Hashi, or O-hashi, as they’re more respectfully called, are a fundamental part of Japanese culture. Kids learn to use them from a young age, thanks to adorable “training” chopsticks that are attached at the non-eating end, often with some cute character face. They’re usually smaller, in order to accommodate child-sized hands, but adults with chopstick phobia might be tempted to buy a set and practice at home! But of course, chopsticks are best known in the West in disposable form: those single-use, twin wooden sticks that you break apart right before a delicious takeout meal or Asian fusion feast. Japanese disposable chopsticks, or waribashi (割り箸), were first invented in the 1800s using leftover wood from the cedar mills of Nara Prefecture. The ingenious idea put scrap wood to use in a way that exemplifies the resource- preserving spirit of mottainai, or “What a waste!” However, as waribashi became popular all over the world, they began to over ow land-fills. What was once a resource-saving product became a wasteful habit.

Concerns about the environmental impact of waribashi gave birth to “My chopsticks” (マイハシ), the eco-friendly phenomenon that’s sweeping the nation. “My chopsticks” are portable, personal chopsticks you can take with you anywhere. They usually come in an elegant, foldable cloth cover, or sometimes in a handy plastic case. While bento enthusiasts know you can buy bento boxes that come with their own set of chopsticks nestled into a special compartment, “My chopsticks” are a great, earth-friendly alternative for people who don’t pack their own lunch, or who often buy convenience store meals. They reduce waste, take up minimal space in your bag and make a nice conversation piece for that awkward conference lunch break.

Cradle, don’t chop

Despite the name, “chopsticks” are not meant for chopping. Avoid looking like a buffoon by following these three rules of chopstick etiquette:

Do NOT rub your disposable sticks together

If you have to use waribashi, don’t commit this common sin unless there are large splinters hanging off.

DO take your time

Studies show that we eat slower with chopsticks, which allows us to savour the meal, aids digestion and discourages overeating.

Do NOT play with your chopsticks

Would you air-drum with a knife, or point to dishes with a fork? No? Enough said.

Illustration by Chieko Watanabe