One of the most popular items on our online store are beautiful chopsticks made in Japan. Since they are used as cutlery on a daily basis, they are often chosen as gifts. We have previously introduced bamboo chopsticks from Kyoto, and Wakasa-nuri lacquered chopsticks from Fukui Prefecture, but what kind of utensils are chopsticks in Japanese food culture? In this article, we will talk about the origin, meaning, and characteristics of Japanese chopsticks, as well as how to pick perfect pairs of them. As you learn more about them, you will know why chopsticks can make great gifts for yourself and for your loved ones.
Chopsticks were “sacred utensils” ?
Origin and the meaning of the Japanese word for chopsticks
Chopsticks are called “Hashi” in the Japanese language. The word “Hashi” is used to name the tools which connect one end to the other, such as “bridge” (Also called “Hashi” in Japanese) that connects one place to the other, or “ladder” (“Hashi-go” in Japanese) that connects a height to the ground. Chopsticks are no exception, and the tips of the chopsticks were thought to belong to people, while the top parts belonged to gods. Therefore, in the old days, it was believed that gods resided in the chopsticks when eating, and that it was thought to be something that connected people and gods. Although the origin of this belief has not been clarified, it is said that this is because they were used in Shinto rituals in the Yayoi Period (300 BC - 250 AD) when people offered food to the god. The chopsticks at the time were made of bamboo and folded in half, which had a similar shape to tongs or tweezers.
Evolution of chopsticks
So how did they turn into the chopsticks we know today? Actually, they had been used as cutlery in China since 3,000 years ago to eat hot food cooked over a fire. It was not until the early 7th century that the culture of using chopsticks was introduced to Japan, when delegation members came back from the Sui Dynasty in China.
In addition to China, there are many other Asian countries that use chopsticks, such as Korea and Southeast Asian countries, but they all use spoons along with them. In Japan, people eat with their mouths on the bowl when they eat soup, so they stopped using spoons and started using only chopsticks. Also, the Japanese eat a lot of fish, so Japanese chopsticks have evolved over the centuries and got distinctive thin tips to pick up fish meat easily.
Furthermore, people have been using them in various scenes and celebrations, putting spiritual significance on them in its food culture. That's why there are so many different kinds in Japan.
Also, each person having own chopsticks is another cultural characteristic not found in other countries. If you look at the various types of Japanese chopsticks, you might get tempted to try different kinds at home and on the go.
Pick your favorite style of chopsticks
Now that you have learned that chopsticks have a very long history that has been rooted in the Japanese food culture for centuries. So, what kind of chopsticks do we have today? And which kind do you want to pick up for yourself and for your loved ones? Let's take a look at the lineup on our online store for some examples.
Pick by materials
Traditional Japanese chopsticks are made of either natural wood or bamboo.
Wooden chopsticks are made of hard, fine-grained, and durable materials. Commonly used woods include hard materials like ironwood, ebony, and rosewood, but lightweight material like zelkova is also used. Many of them are lacquered for a luxurious feel, or have a warm and natural design that brings out the texture of the material itself.
Learn more about this set of five wooden chopsticks here.
Bamboo chopsticks are light, flexible, and strong enough that they do not break even when they are made thin at the tips. They are made with bamboos of different colors that are changed over the years, or the ones with peculiar patterns that are caused by natural conditions.
Pick by design
If you like classic designs or want to use chopsticks with a history, we would recommend Wakasa-nuri chopsticks with abalone inlay decorations. Wakasa-nuri chopsticks have been made since the 16th century, and the glittering abalone shell decorations in particular are one of the most traditional designs handed down since that era. These gorgeously designed chopsticks, which symbolize the beautiful sea of Wakasa Bay and show the skills of master craftsmen, not only make the food you eat more delicious, but are also pleasing to the eyes.
Learn more about this set of Wakasa-nuri chopsticks here.
If you like unique designs or an art lover, how about this pair with an edgy design of ukiyo-e on the top parts of the chopsticks? Wouldn't it be fun to be able to appreciate one of Japan's most famous ukiyo-e artists, Hokusai's "The Great Wave Off Kanagawa," every time you eat? Also, since the design is based on waves, it might make a great gift for someone who loves the ocean or surfing. These chopsticks might not be the luxurious kind, but they are casual chopsticks you will surely love as you use them every day.
Learn more about this pair of chopsticks with ukiyo-e by Hokusai here.
Pick by scene (for gift use)
A set of two pairs of chopsticks are the perfect item for a wedding gift or on wedding anniversaries as a good luck charm. As you know, two chopsticks make one pair, and a pair of chopsticks cannot be used without one. For this reason, traditionally they have been regarded as a symbol of a happy couple supplementing and supporting each other. Giving chopsticks as a gift is also a way to pray for health, wealth, and well-being in the family, so that one can eat well. The word “Hashi,” the Japanese word for “chopsticks” also means “bridge,” as we mentioned earlier, so they are thought as a bridge that strengthens the bond between wife and husband, and the one that connects the couple and happiness.
Learn more about this set of chopsticks and chopsticks rests here.
Another type of chopsticks that is truly unique to Japan is the portable chopsticks in a hard case that can be carried along with your Bento / lunch box. These days, the Bento culture is becoming more and more popular in the Western countries as well, and more people want to have a homemade, healthy rice-based meal brought from home for lunch, and this is where these portable chopsticks come in handy. Disposable chopsticks might be easier, but eating lunch with portable chopsticks of your favorite design along with a matching Bento box will surely be a joy during lunch break. It’s highly recommended as a gift for children going to school or for those who go out working every day.
Learn more about this set of portable chopsticks and Bento box here.
Find a pair that makes your meals more enjoyable!
In this article, we have talked about the meaning of chopsticks as eating utensils and their historical background. The chopsticks introduced from our online store are only a small part of what we have to offer, but we hope that this article will help you learn more about the delicately beautiful chopsticks that are unique to Japan. Since they are cutlery that we use every day, they make a great gift for your loved ones for various occasions, including wedding gifts, and you may also want to look for a pair with the design you like for yourself. If you give the perfect pair of chopsticks as a gift, they will surely deepen the bond between you and your loved ones and build a “bridge” between you.