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Chopstick Etiquette in Japan: Golden Rules for Holding & Using

chopsticks being used to eat ramen in Japan

Ready to learn chopstick etiquette in Japan?

It may sound strange if you’re not used to using them, but almost everyone in Japan has their own personal pair of chopsticks.


If you’re planning on visiting or working in Japan, you’ll probably need to use chopsticks at some point.


Chopsticks or Ohashi (お箸), as they’re known in Japan, are an integral part of Japanese culture. Using them well will win you friends, whilst using them wrong can even offend people.


In this post, we’ll explain some of the rights and wrongs of using chopsticks in Japan.

How To Hold Chopsticks In Japan

Don’t know how to hold chopsticks in Japan? Look at the image above and try to copy the hand position by copying the following steps.


  1. Hold one of the chopsticks tightly between your thumb and your index finger and stabilise it with your ring finger.
  2. Use your thumb, index and middle finger to support the other chopstick.
  3. When you want to pick up some food, just move the top chopstick up and down with your middle finger.

If you still need more help understanding how to use chopsticks, watch this video:



Chopstick Rules In Japan

Politeness is valued in Japan just as much as it is anywhere else in the world. Using chopsticks correctly is a great way to show politeness.


Here are 17 simple rules to follow when using chopsticks in Japan.

1. Don’t Rub Your Chopsticks Together

People rub cheap chopsticks together to remove splinters from them. This is often the case with waribashi (disposable chopsticks that you break in half before use).


If you rub your chopsticks together, it shows that you think the host has provided you with cheap/low-quality chopsticks. This can be taken as an insult.

2. Don’t Stand Chopsticks Vertically In Food (tate bashi – 立たて箸)

The presence of a bowl of rice with two chopsticks standing upright is a tradition at Japanese funerals.

Chopsticks are left upright in a bowl of rice as an offering to the deceased. The bowl is usually placed in front of their picture, at their deathbed or on a household Buddhist altar.

If you stand your chopsticks upright in your food, it can remind people of death and is seen as disrespectful. It’s thought to bring bad luck too! So, avoid doing this when using chopsticks in Japan.

3. Do Not Stab Food With Your Chopsticks  (sashi bashi – 刺さし)

Do not use one chopstick to stab food and bring it to your mouth. This is disrespectful, rude and downright bad table manners. Try to use both chopsticks at all times.

Even spearing your food with both chopsticks is considered impolite.

Japanese food is often served in small pieces that are easy to pick up with chopsticks anyway. Even if the food keeps getting away from you, resist the urge to spear it!

Some people like to stab the food with a chopstick to check it is cooked properly. This can also appear rude, as you don’t trust your host to properly prepare your food.

Try not to break these chopstick rules in Japan. Unless it’s entirely necessary!


4. Do Not Pass Food To Another Pair Of Chopsticks

Passing food between chopsticks is a huge no. It’s possibly the worst thing you can do when using chopsticks in Japan.


This is called 箸渡し (はしわたし, hashi watashi).


At Japanese funerals, the deceased person’s bones are passed between people with chopsticks. When you pass food between chopsticks, it reminds people of this.


If you want to share food with someone using chopsticks, move it to a dish for them to pick it up from.


This is one of the most important chopstick rules in Japan.

5. Do Not Leave Your Chopsticks Crossed On Your Bowl Or The Table

Crossed chopsticks on top of your bowl is a sign that you no longer want your dish.


If you haven’t finished eating, this can be considered rude.


If you need to rest your chopsticks, place them together neatly on a chopstick holder if you can.


Many restaurants will provide chopstick holders. If you have disposable chopsticks, you can fashion a chopstick holder out of the paper packaging.


Another thing to remember is that crossed chopsticks can also remind people of funerals. So try not to do this.

6. Do Not Take Food From A Sharing Plate Using The Chopsticks You’ve Just Eaten With


When taking food from a sharing plate, it’s unhygienic to use chopsticks that have touched your mouth.


You may find that specific cutlery is provided for sharing plates (usually extra long communal chopsticks). In which case, you should use it to transfer the food to your dish and then eat it from there.


If there is no sharing cutlery, You should try to use a clean pair of chopsticks to get food from the sharing plate. If this isn’t possible, it’s acceptable to use the thick end of the chopsticks to grab food from the sharing plate. This side hasn’t touched your mouth, although it’s still not 100% hygienic.


You shouldn’t eat directly from the shared plate either. Move the food onto your plate, and then eat it.


If you are in a more informal environment, however, you may find the rules are more relaxed.


If in doubt, watch what others do before you and copy them.



7. Do Not Wave Your Chopsticks Indecisively Above Dishes Of Food

Be decisive when using chopsticks in Japan. It’s considered rude and even greedy to wave your chopsticks in the air over the dishes you are thinking of eating.


Make a decision in your mind, and then get the food. This is important chopstick etiquette in Japan.


You should also try to take a little from each dish rather than your favourite every time. And, if you touch food with your chopsticks, you should eat it.


Following these chopstick rules in Japan will help you appear more polite and sophisticated.

8. Do Not Point With Your Chopsticks Or Wave Them In The Air

Pointing with chopsticks is very rude, just like pointing a finger at someone. Make sure to avoid doing this.


Waving chopsticks in the air whilst talking is also rude. Make sure to rest them before you start telling a story with lots of hand gestures.

9. Don’t Put Your Chopsticks In Your Mouth

Chewing, sucking and letting chopsticks rest in your mouth is considered unhygienic and rude.


Not only that, it can be dangerous if someone bumps into you or you fall on them.


It’s also very unhygienic to scratch body parts with chopsticks. So definitely don’t do that.

10. Don’t Move Bowls & Dishes With Your Chopsticks

Don’t move your bowl or anything else apart from food with your chopsticks.


Also, don’t move things with the hand that is holding your chopsticks. Use your free hand.


Moving your plates and bowls with your chopsticks is considered rude, and it can cause unpleasant sounds, as well as making a mess if you spill things whilst doing so. 


11. Don’t Wash Your Chopsticks In Liquids On The Table

Don’t use soup, tea or any liquid at the table to wash your chopsticks.


You should avoid getting them dirty whilst using them. If you have great chopstick etiquette, they will remain mostly clean for your whole meal, and you will only use around an inch of them.

12. Don’t Play With Your Chopsticks

They’re not drumsticks, they’re not hairpins, vampire teeth or toys.


Playing with chopsticks is seen as very childish. Even the children are taught from a young age to not do this.


If you do play with your chopsticks, you might be on the receiving end of some very strange looks.


The things you see looking very pretty in hair are not actually chopsticks. They are ornaments called kanzashi. Chopsticks are for food.


Also, tapping chopsticks against dishes or glasses is called “Tataki-bashi”. It’s considered rude and childish.

13. Hold Your Chopsticks Correctly!

This is one of the simplest chopstick rules in Japan. It’s easier said than done if you’ve never used chopsticks though.


If you don’t know how to hold chopsticks in Japan, you should practice before you go for a fancy meal.


People will respect your ability to use chopsticks correctly, and they’re easier to use when you do it properly too.

14. Don’t Dig For Good Bits

Be patient and respectful with your food when using chopsticks in Japan. Take food from the top, and don’t dig in looking for the good bits.


This is especially important for shared dishes, as it can be considered greedy.

Try not to move things you dislike to one site. This is seen as depreciation of food in Japan.

15. Don’t Scoop Rice, But Do Scoop Soup

Whilst it’s ok to move the rice bowl close to your mouth, you shouldn’t scoop it into your mouth. Japanese rice is often quite sticky, and you should be able to pick it up with chopsticks quite easily.


It is ok, however, to bring a bowl of soup up to your mouth, and scoop it in with your chopsticks. It’s even acceptable to make slurping sounds.

16. Don’t Grasp Chopsticks In Your Palm

Grasping chopsticks in the palm of your hand can make people think that you are going to use them as a weapon, so avoid doing this.

17. Don’t Use Unmatched Chopsticks

Unmatched chopsticks look funny, and they are also a reminder of funerals. So avoid doing this. Anything related to funerals is considered unlucky.

Feeling Confident In Your Chopstick Etiquette In Japan?

If you are thinking about working in Japan, you’re more than likely going to be using chopsticks. Probably quite regularly too! 

You may also want to read our dedicated blog on dining etiquette in Japan.

So, get practising your chopstick etiquette now! If you need anything else, contact us. Our friendly team is always happy to help.

About the Author

Brian McDonough is a consultant at Interac, Japan’s largest provider of ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers). Originally from the US, Brian has lived in Japan for over 25 years, giving him a unique perspective on the cultural differences and challenges people face when moving to Japan. He has first-hand experience of working in Japan as an American.