Differences Between Japanese, Chinese and Korean Chopsticks
Updated: Apr 18
Not many people know this, but there is a big difference between Chinese, Korean and Japanese chopsticks. And it's very easy to tell them apart.
When you decide to buy a personal pair of chopsticks, it's not as easy as going to a local Asian restaurant and grabbing some.
If you want to use chopsticks comfortably and for a long time, there are some things you should consider before purchasing them.
Don't worry, I'll give you the best criteria so that in addition to eating comfortably, you enjoy your sushi in style.
China, Japan and Korea are three of the Asian nations whose culture shines the most internationally. Their food and culture have travelled the world, and one of the biggest culinary impacts they've had is the use of chopsticks.
Invented in ancient China, the Chinese people have wielded chopsticks since at least 1200 BC. The first chopsticks that archaeologists found were made of bronze. Discovered in the ruins of Yin, it is believed that they were used for cooking, stirring the fire, and serving food instead of eating it. Chopsticks were first used as kitchen utensils in the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD). By 500 AD, they had spread throughout Asia, from Japan to Vietnam.
It is to Confucius and his contempt for knives that we owe the rise of the wands. As a vegetarian, Confucius believed that the sharp utensils would be reminiscent of slaughter, violence, and war. Because of this, he believed that these sharp objects went against the friendly, peaceful and happy atmosphere that surrounds meals.
Over the years, these different cultures have adopted different styles of chopsticks. We will see in this article the different types of Asian chopsticks.
Chopsticks are made from multiple materials. Sometimes this difference is because the chopsticks are from different countries. Other times, it's just decorative. Most often, various materials are used depending on the type of cooking.
Materials and their advantages:
Plastic: Inexpensive, but not very durable.
Bamboo: Easily divides. Heat resistant. Usually distributed with Chinese take-out.
Bones or precious metals: Usually belong to wealthy families as a symbol of their status. There were often engravings on it.
Stainless steel: durable, reusable, ecological.
Titanium: resistant, dishwasher safe, the most durable.
There are even more types of materials that chopsticks can be made from, but these five types of materials are the most common.
My advice: Bamboo, Stainless steel and Titanium sticks are more resistant and above all more ergonomic for beginners.
The Chinese were the first to invent chopsticks over 5,000 years ago. It is said that they were then considered to be the extension of the fingers.
Chinese chopsticks are rectangular in shape with a blunt end instead of a sharp end and are usually made of wood. They are also longer than their Japanese and Korean counterparts, as the Chinese have a tradition of sharing food. The long chopsticks allow them to reach dishes on the table and also prevent burns when approaching hot pans.
Among Korean, Japanese and Chinese chopsticks, these are the longest and thickest.
Some good manners with Chinese chopsticks
You can bring the bowl up to your mouth to eat rice with the chopsticks
Food should not be pricked with chopsticks, if the food is too difficult to eat with chopsticks, it should be eaten with a spoon.
It is customary for elderly people to pick up their chopsticks before other people at the table.
Chopsticks should not cross another person's chopsticks, nor pass over their hand or arm. We must wait or move the dish.
There are still many other good manners and customs surrounding Chinese chopsticks, the Chinese are very superstitious. For example, according to Chinese superstition, if you find an uneven pair of chopsticks at your table, you will miss the next boat, train or plane that you are trying to catch.
The Japanese word for "chopsticks" is hashi.
How the Japanese began to use chopsticks is a subject of debate. Some say that chopsticks made their way from China to Japan around the sixth century AD, via Korea. Others say they were brought directly to Japan by an Imperial envoy at a somewhat later date. In any case, like many things that came from China to Japan, chopsticks were first revered.
At the beginning of their history, Japanese chopsticks served as a bridge between man and the divine. Rather than being used for ordinary meals, they were initially used to share food with the gods. It was believed that when a pair of wands were offered to a deity, the wands became inhabited by that deity. When these chopsticks were used to eat the food that was offered to them, mortals and immortals dined together. They are called ceremonial chopsticks and are still used today, for example during tea ceremonies.
Japanese chopsticks are generally rounded at the ends and shorter than Chinese models, but longer than Korean models. They are also more colourful and more complex. And since the Japanese also consume a lot of fish, their chopsticks are sharp as it helps them remove bones from fish.
The Japanese developed distinctive types of chopsticks. They feature many styles of chopsticks used for different purposes, including cooking, eating specific meals, and at funerals. The Japanese use several materials to make their chopsticks. Wood and plastic are the main materials used today. Everyone usually has their pair of chopsticks, as people believe that since their lips touch the utensil, their minds are attached to it as well.
There are different lengths, materials and types of chopsticks created for:
The kitchen (cooking): saibashi
Eat specific meals
Pick up certain foods
Used at funerals
Used for special events
Compared to Chinese chopsticks, Japanese chopsticks have more rounded ends. This style of chopsticks tends to have a more complex colour and design, as it is considered an important element in maintaining balance in the home.
Indeed, Japanese chopsticks are much thinner at the end, and more pointed, because Japanese cuisine is refined and delicate. This makes it difficult to use Chinese chopsticks to eat sushi, for example.
Good Manners in Japan
When not in use, the ends of the chopsticks should be placed on a chopstick holder. A chopstick holder can be made with the paper packaging of chopsticks if disposable chopsticks are used.
The other end of the chopsticks can be used to transfer food from a common plate.
The chopsticks should not form a cross or be driven vertically into the rice, as they both symbolize death.
If you are using disposable chopsticks, they should be returned to the packaging at the end of the meal.
Japan also has its share of superstitions and legends. For example, if a husband or father has gone to war and family members are missing, they bring out their chopsticks when they eat, to participate in the meal through them.
The “jeotgarak” (chopsticks in Korean) being an important tool for the meal, Koreans learn to use it from an early age. Koreans consider the handling of chopsticks a necessity for good table manners. And for children and adults alike, table manners are very important.
Korean chopsticks are made of metal: either stainless steel or silver. Their origin dates back to the 7th century when silver was believed to be able to detect arsenic poisoning. They also became a status symbol, as not everyone could afford silver chopsticks. Korean chopsticks are also flat, partly to save material, but also because they are more durable than wooden and plastic chopsticks, making them ideal for Korean barbecue! Another reason Koreans use metal to make chopsticks is because they use spoons to eat rice.
They are much shorter than Japanese and Chinese chopsticks.
Korean chopsticks and good manners
The chopsticks and the spoon should be placed on the right side of the dish. Chopsticks should be placed to the right of the spoon, with chopsticks going to the left of the spoon only during memorial services.
The spoon is used for rice and soup, while the chopsticks are used for side dishes.
In Korea, it is considered rude to lift the plate or bowl closer to the mouth.
If the food is dripping when lifted with chopsticks, you can hold a spoon underneath to catch the sauce.
Before you buy chopsticks, ask yourself if you plan to use them every day for a long time or if you just want to have them on hand when you feel like trying them.
In general, chopsticks are very affordable, especially if you are looking for bamboo, wood or stainless steel chopsticks.