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Why Do People Rub Their Chopsticks Together Before Using Them?

Lately, I have been encountering more and more restaurant goers who vigorously rub their wooden chopsticks together before using them. Some people rub so vigorously, they seem like they are trying to start a fire. I find it a bit disconcerting when the person next to me at a sushi bar or yakitori bar is doing this.

So why do people rub their chopsticks together? When I first went to Japan, I was taught this was grossly rude, very uncouth. Was I given wrong information? Is it considered perfectly polite to rub your chopsticks? And does it serve some purpose? (I've never personally encountered a splinter on my chopsticks that required me to rub them together to remove the splinter).

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  1. I rub my cheapie wooden chop sticks together to get the splinters out. It may be uncouth in Japan, but I know I would find it uncouth to find a tiny sliver of wood nicking me.

    Plastic or porcelain chop sticks I don't bother.

    6 Replies
    1. re: SauceSupreme

      Bingo. I've encountered splinters from cheapie chopsticks before, and it is not pleasant at all. To rub one's chopsticks together at a place that uses decent chopsticks would be quite rude indeed, as it implies that the chopsticks provided are the cheap ones.

      1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

        The cheap ones are usually part stuck together and wrapped in a paper sheath, don't they?

      2. re: SauceSupreme

        Ditto. I really hate those cheap wooden chopsticks. I always have a hard time breaking them apart and when I do, they're inevitably covered in teeny tiny little splinters. I feel weird rubbing them together, but I'd rather do that then end up with pieces of wood mixed with my food.

        1. re: SarahEats

          I prefer the cheap wooden chopsticks (O-hashi) because the rough texture makes it much easier to pick up kernels of rice, etc. I lived in Japan for ten years and pretty darn proficient with O-hashi. I have big ones I use for cooking and fancy-schmancy ones for company however, I don't really care for the slick lacquered ones.

          1. re: bkhuna

            Hashi is the Japanese word for all chopsticks - not for the cheap ones. The O- is added to nouns in front as an honorific or similar designator (could be size, for example), depending on usage. Hashi can also mean bridge - you have to know the context or see the kanji.

            The Japanese word for the cheap wooden chopsticks is waribashi. Wari (cheap) and the b replaces the h in combinational form.

            1. re: applehome

              Did you know that "hashi" can also mean "end-corner area", something totally unrelated to the other meanings of "chopsticks" and "bridge"?

      3. I see vigorously rubbing the sticks together as being akin to holding up a spoon for inspection and rubbing it down with a napkin. The message you are sending is that the utensils are subpar, unacceptable and perhaps unhygenic, and you are doing so in a tremendously obvious manner (it really does look like they are trying to build a fire!). I personally don't believe that kind of thing belongs anywhere except in one's home or perhaps Denny's.

        I think for many people it is a habit. I've personally never encountered chopsticks that were splintered to the point of causing me dining difficulty, and when I have had to deal with problematic splinters I try to do so in the most tactful manner possible (usually smoothing the offending piece of wood down with a finger works).

        3 Replies
        1. re: Bad Sneakers

          I agree with everything you wrote, Bad Sneakers. I think it's insulting to rub chopsticks or wipe silverware in restaurants -- If you really think the place is that subpar/dirty, why are you eating there in the first place?

          1. re: squeaks

            Wooden Chop sticks presented in a sealed paper wrapper can be assummed CLEAN. So if someone is rubbing them together, it can not be concluded, that they think they are diry! There is no need for anyone else to say so. Nor to create an insult in their minds, only.

            If I rub two wooden or even plastic chopsticks together, I am making a wish and giving Thanks!

          2. re: Bad Sneakers

            So what do you do when you discover a dirty utensil? Or are you claiming this never occurs at restaurants of a level above Denny's?

            I do not clean dirty utensils with a napkin, I ask for a replacement and yes indeed the message I am intentionally and forcefully sending is that "the utensils are subpar, unacceptable and perhaps unhygenic" and that is why I will not eat with it.

            You try to deal with splinters in a "tactful" manner? Who's watching you?

          3. In particular, the chopsticks that I rub together, when I do so (which is NOT always), are the cheap kind that come in a little paper packet, that you have to split apart into two separate sticks. I don't think they're unhygeinic, but I am being required to finish the manufacturing process already, and I choose to finish to my own specs.

            That end bit that you have to break apart (a) rarely splits evenly, which is annoying, and (b) usually leaves at least one rough edge with splinters. As others have said above, one rubs the rough ends together to smooth the edges. I would NOT try to do that by smoothing down with my finger.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Allstonian

              Hear hear. And to those who say that rubbing the chopsticks is rude because it implies the restaurant has provided subpar utensils: well, they are subpar. I hate splitting those damned things. Give me the plastic ones any day. Or even the wooden oval ones. But I hate those ones that are connected all the way to the bottom. So poke-y.

              1. re: litchick

                Since I'm the one who said it... I said at a place that uses *decent* chopsticks. Rubbing plastic or lacquered ones together is positively ridiculous.

            2. Place another vote for rubbing the stix is better than splinter in the lips.

              After the latter occured to me many moons ago, if the resto gives me the break apart kind, you gotta protect those lips and rubbing is the only this that works.

              If not wood, then I smile, and enjoy the food sans rubbing.

              1. Chopstick rubbing creates more splinters, just smaller ones. The way I sometimes see people doing it, it appears that they're under the illusion that this is a requisite ritual for beginning a Japanese meal.

                http://petercherches.blogspot.com

                1. Seems like it would be easiest to just bring your own. I'll have to remember that as I too, hate those wooden things in packets. While sanitary I guess, it it akin to eating in a restaurant and getting a "take out utensil packet".

                  1. almost as annoying as watching people eat sushi with chopsticks. Come on people, use your fingers. :)

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: jpschust

                      So true, to the Japanese sushi is a finger food.

                      1. re: Billy Bob

                        Finger food, that you dip in the soy sauce. Then you can lick your fingers clean, instead of getting the chopsticks diry!

                        1. re: nutrition

                          Licking your fingers clean is like licking your knife clean. Both are gross.

                          I've never been splintered with the cheap-o chopsticks. If you do, how high are you holding them?

                          1. re: PlatypusJ

                            I don't think it's only the idea of getting splinters in your hands but also in your mouth or in the food. The really cheap ones can have splinters almost all the way down to the tips.

                      2. re: jpschust

                        I will most def. use my fingers to avoid splinters. Why in heavens name does the restaurant supply customers with cheap chopsticks? Splinters!

                      3. The practice of rubbing chopsticks is as everyone has identified, to remove loose strands of wood - specifically from the type that you pull apart.

                        Any other type of chopsticks do not need the rubbing. And, having spent considerable time in Japan (and Far East) and watching everyone do it, I do not think they consider it uncouth.

                        1. Just got back from China. Our host told us to always rub our chopsticks together to get rid of the splinters.

                          1. I too thought it was unmannerly to rub the chopsticks (perhaps it's offensive in Japan, but not in China). When I encounter splinters, I just pull it from the chopstick; no rubbing required.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: OCAnn

                              I find rubbing creates smaller splinter as well. I just pull off the larger splinters too.

                              There's also a slight difference in chopsticks from Japan and China. Wooden chopsticks in Japan are usually 2 sticks connected at the top and rounded off and pointier on the bottom, so it's pretty smooth to begin with and rubbing isn't required. The chopsticks in China seem to just be from one stick and then sliced in half, creating splinters. Notice the cheapy ones are square on the bottom.

                            2. I dunno, I must have been born under a lucky star. I've been using chopsticks for years, sometimes as many as 6 times a week, often the cheapie wooden ones. And I've never had a splinter. Maybe once or twice they didn't spit right, at which time I asked the waitstaff for another pair (or if at home, I dug out another pair).

                              I have never ever seen anyone in Japan rub their chopsticks. Perhaps it's a Chinese custom. For their first time ever last night in the U.S., I saw an Asian person rub her chopsticks at a yakitori bar, but she was obviously American-born and possibly not of Japanese background since she looked at my bowl of oshinko and asked me what it was.

                              1. I'm from an Asian family and I asked my parents the very same question when I was little (and received the same answer: to get rid of possible splinters). as long as you don't make a big production out of rubbing your chopsticks, I don't see any harm in doing so. I've been going to a particular Chinese restaurant pretty regularly for the past 3 years, and one of the waiters always rubs my chopsticks for me and whoever else I'm having the meal with. that took some getting used to, and it's hard sometimes not to feel like a big baby :)

                                1. I guess once of the reasons I find it so annoying when people rub their chopstickes (particularly when they are sitting next to me at a bar) is that it makes me feel like I am in a cheap dive.

                                  Not only have I never seen anyone in Japan rub their chopsticks, but I've never seen it done at a high quality restaurant such as Kuruma Zushi, Sushi Yasuda, Kai or the old Ginza Sushi-Ko. I certainly don't always eat at restaurants of that quality, but even when I am in a middle-end restaurant, I like to keep up the illusion that I'm not at a hash house.

                                  1. I'm there with you.

                                    But as my husband frequently tells me, I shouldn't let other's manners (or lack thereof) bother me. I'm pretty old-school when it comes to manners and am more formal, anal and rigid when it comes to social etiquette than many. Some social circles and cultures (like Japan and England) have many varied rules by which I abide; but with the globalisation and casualisation of manners, we may be a dying breed.

                                    1. We took a Chinese friend out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant recently and were surprised to see that she brought her own chopsticks with her. Maybe so she wouldn;t have to rub them together???

                                      1. While most of the folks here seem to rub their chopstick together to remove splinters, I do believe there are a lot of people think you're "supposed" to do it all the time. I've seen lots of people do this with nice chopsticks that are factory split and perfectly smooth. But I also cut these folks slack. I'm sure they're worried about the much bally-hooed Asian etiquette, and are trying to do the right thing, but end up doing the wrong thing.

                                        1. My friend does this very vigorously as mentioned, and I think I'm hardwired to feel annoyed. I don't think it's a cultural thing as we're both Asian and I have other Asian-American friends who do this. But with her, it's such a production. If I see visible shreds of wood, I pluck them off, but don't sweat the small stuff. Has anyone ever gotten a splinter from chopsticks? I would think you'd have to shove the chopsticks against your lips pretty hard, and without the buffer of food.

                                          6 Replies
                                          1. re: traceybell

                                            As mentioned above, I use chopsticks (often the cheapies) as much as six times a week and I've never even seen a splinter.

                                            I've also never actually seen anyone inspect their chopsticks before rubbing - they just rub a dub dub. If people were so concerned about splinters, you would think they would inspect first.

                                            Also, I hope people who rub their chopsticks don't travel to Japan or, if they do, don't try to eat at good restaurants there because this is the kind of thing that ruins it for other foreigners in Japan, perhaps explaining why certain high-end restaurants and ryokans in Japan will not accomodate foreigners.

                                            1. re: omotosando

                                              Do good, high-end restaurants and ryokans in Japan really give their customers cheap pull-apart chopsticks? That seems really odd and a huge detraction from a fine dining experience, as if a fancy US restaurant were to set its tables with plasticware.

                                              1. re: Allstonian

                                                Pull apart disposable wooden chopsticks are ubiquitous in Japan. They are considered highly sanitary and beyond reproach from a hygene standpoint, and therefore as a courtesy to customers. But the pull apart chopsticks used in better places in Japan are, as mentioned elsewhere on thise thread, generally of higher quality and of a slightly different type (milled and rounded and joined only at the top) than the cheaper type most commonly seen in the U.S.

                                                1. re: Allstonian

                                                  Hmmm...I recall wooden (not cheap) chopsticks @ high end restaurants in Japan. At ryokans, I think it depends on the ryokan; most have decent wooden chopsticks for b'fast, lacquer ones for dinner.

                                                2. re: omotosando

                                                  I think the ryokans not accomodating foreigners is more due to pre-bath/soak hygiene.

                                                  As for high-end restaurants, I never knew that they didn't accomodate foreigners.... Could it be that foreigners are simply not aware of them?

                                                3. re: traceybell

                                                  Furhtermore, if you did get a splinter, it would be because you are holding the chopsticks backwards. the only part thaat isn't finished, even on cheap sticks, id the butt end where the are joined. this shouldn't be near your mouth if you are holding them right.

                                                4. As mentioned, it's only with wood chopsticks...and of course there are varying qualities of wood chopsticks. The better wood chopsticks are oval in diameter. You really only need to rub the cheaper ones.

                                                  In my experience with the cheaper chopsticks, there's two phases:

                                                  1) knock off the loose splinter and
                                                  2) rub/mash down the fibrous wood to be smooth thus being less likely that splinters will appear

                                                  If you ever worked with wood, you'll kind of get it.

                                                  BTW, it's not just splinters that come off the sticks but also splinters that stick into the food, which you'll end up eating.

                                                  1. I know why people do this, but I *HATE* the sound of it. It's fingernails on a chalkboard to me. So, I never do it myself and I've never had a splinter.

                                                    1. Bear in mind, also, that when I rub my chopsticks together, I do so under the table so that the sound is a bit more muted and less visible.

                                                      1. This is getting to be about a very basic 'chownd-ish' issue. Does a real chowhound care if a really good Chinese restaurant has only the cheap kind of chopsticks that require rubbing? I would think not. When I encounter this phenonmenon, I rub discreetly.

                                                        In fact, the underlying issue is somewhat perplexing. Why would an otherwise high quality place use these things at all? I think I would find it a bit embarrassing to ask, but I do run into it from time to time. And..... here's a side issue - the very best Chinese place near my work serves the high quality lacquered chopsticks for eat-in, but gives the cheapest type for take-out. If I'm taking the food home.... no problem..... I use my own, but at work I keep forgetting to bring in some of the better ones to use.

                                                        I know the owner pretty well, but I think it would be awkward to ask him why he does that. The reason is probably either that he doesn't want to add cost to his take-out menu, or that, PLUS he just figures it's take-out and people can rub all they want in the privacy or their home/office. I don't know of anyone who's sued a chinese restaurant over a splinter accident.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: Midlife

                                                          For many reasons, the restaurant wouldn't be liable for a splinter accident.

                                                          1. re: PlatypusJ

                                                            I always wonder when an 18-month-old post is brought back to life for a seemingly random response. Yet here we are...........

                                                            I was, in case it wasn't obvious enough, being facetious, but would be interested in knowing the source of the contention that if someone got a splinter in their mouth from a wooden utensil provided by a restaurant there would be no liability. Seems like we see law suits over less obvious things than that all the time.

                                                        2. If my chopsticks splinter when I split them, I rub them together to reduce/shrink the splinters, but under the table, out of sight. I am hopeful that this doesn't look worse to the casual observer than doing it in plain view.

                                                          1. Maybe it's the Jersey in me coming out, but when I get cheap chopsticks full of splinters (which happened to me last night), I call over the waiter and ask for different, the same as if I got a fork with a bent tine or a dirty spoon.

                                                            The only time I've ever had any problem with that policy was at a Chinese restaurant on the Upper East Side, where the waiter grabbed the chopsticks and started rubbing them. One of my dining companions said, "What are you rubbing the splinters onto the table for??"

                                                            1. I suppose slightly un-related, but another reason to carry your own chopsticks (as I now intend to), is the demolition of the world's forests for the production of "disposable" chopsticks. Inasmuch, China has instigated a "luxury tax" on the use of chopsticks because of the de-forestation of their country. Pretty interesting stuff: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4...

                                                              1. Q. Am I supposed to rub my chopsticks together before my meal?

                                                                A. Some think that rubbing your chopsticks together before a meal is a Japanese custom meant to remove splinters. In fact, rubbing chopsticks together can encourage more splinters than it actually takes off! This ritual originates from an early Charlie Chaplin movie that was popular in Japan before WWII. In this movie, Charlie Chaplin rubs his knife and fork together as a gesture of culinary anticipation. The Japanese people who were fans of the movie at the time, mimicked this action with their chopsticks. After WWII, American GIs returning from Japan brought this American born custom home again! In Japan today it is not a commonly practiced custom.

                                                                http://www.domorestaurant.com/qanda.html

                                                                All I have to say is, "Duh!" It doesn't work. If you want to smooth out wood, you use sandpaper and not another abrasive stick of wood. This should be common knowledge just by the feel of it. It feels like one is just scratching it up even more. But yet the myth persists.

                                                                I put this in one of those categories meant to make Americans look stupid, like the Hawaiian tourist tradition of peeing on your own leg to prevent bacterial infection.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: david t.

                                                                  Every single thing about that Q and A just screams Urban Legend. I don't believe a word of it.

                                                                2. It is so much nicer to carry your own pair of chopsticks, you can even get smaller "travel-sized" ones complete with a case. You can get cases alone as well. It is rather fun to hunt out a unique pair for yourself.

                                                                  I was lucky to have inherited from a neighbor her old knitting stuff, which included a pair of antique ivory japanese chopsticks. Beautiful! She thought they were knitting needles.

                                                                  The point being, that if it matters to you if there are or are not splinters, if it is rude or not rude, you *are* almost CH-mandated to carry a personal pair. Create a new level of dining elegance.

                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                  1. re: Quine

                                                                    I just hope no one walks into a nice restaurant with their own chopsticks. That would be a little like walking into a nice French restaurant with your own fork.

                                                                    Anyone remember the Beverly Hillbillies? The Clampetts have arrived for dinner.

                                                                    1. re: omotosando

                                                                      I read that the Japanese gov't was actually trying to encourage this - there is a real tree crisis brought on by the huge numbers of waribashi being consumed.

                                                                      1. re: omotosando

                                                                        This was commonly done before the advent of cheap disposable wooden chopsticks. Not at all the same thing as your fork example.

                                                                    2. It is easier to eat with a Fork, that is why they have them in Asian restaurants.
                                                                      I even use them to eat PHO, since the large amount of noodles, which make up a major portion of the bowl. But I would not have any problem of using chopsticks, if there were no forks available. I just get less of the PHO on my shirts with a fork!

                                                                      ;)

                                                                      5 Replies
                                                                      1. re: nutrition

                                                                        I assume you mean it's easier for you to eat with a fork. They have forks in Asian restaurants that are chopstick cultures because some customers want or need them. They have forks in Thai restaurants because Anna Leonowens sold the king of Siam on the idea. Even in Thailand they use chopsticks for noodles, because they consider chopsticks more suitable for noodles. I agree wholeheartedly.

                                                                        1. re: nutrition

                                                                          I'm actually a neater eater of a bowl of noodles with chopsticks (and a spoon, if it's noodle soup) than with a fork and spoon.

                                                                          And Thais don't put forks in their mouths -- the fork is a pusher, the spoon is what goes in the mouth. A typical Thai would no sooner put a fork in his mouth than an American would put a knife in his mouth.

                                                                          1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                            Filipinos do the same thing. I always set the table with spoon and a fork out of habit. When I have guests over, I still ask if they need both.

                                                                            I too am a 'neater eater' with chopsticks and a spoon. Twirling noodles with a fork always gets my shirt dirty.

                                                                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                              Which hand do the Thais hold the spoon with? The right hand (if right handed)?

                                                                              1. re: eatfood

                                                                                Spoon in the right hand, fork in the left. Applies not just to Thailand, but South East Asia in general.

                                                                          2. I have never (a) seen splinters of any consequence on the business end of even the cheapest disposable chopsticks; nor (b) understood why some people (including Mrs. ricepad) rub the 'handle' ends of disposable chopsticks. Unless you're planning to put a Death Grip with your lips on the chopsticks, you're not going to get a splinter.

                                                                            I've convinced myself that people do it because they either think it's proper, or because they think it's necessary. It is neither. You can easily eliminate the 'drag' on your lips from using dry, rough, cheap chopsticks by quickly dipping the ends into your water or tea to moisten them. I doubt anybody will notice it either. (They're all too busy making fire!)

                                                                            In the interests of domestic tranquility, however, I no longer try to get Mrs. ricepad to abandon the practice, and have pretty well learned to control my cringing when she does it.

                                                                            8 Replies
                                                                            1. re: ricepad

                                                                              I had huge splinters on my chopsticks in a Korean restaurant in Edison, NJ on Saturday. Rather than rub them, I asked for new, and was given the more usual (and harder to use) stainless steel chopsticks.

                                                                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                I've eaten so much Asian food that chopsticks feel as natural to me as a fork, but I could never get any traction with those thin, flat metal Korean chopsticks. I often ask for wooden chopsticks.

                                                                                1. re: Peter Cherches

                                                                                  I have the same problem and, while it's totally rude, I have brought out the old (plastic-wrapped so they don't get dirty) cheapo plastic chopsticks from 99 Ranch that go in my briefcase. I only do this when there's no other alternative, though.

                                                                                  (The chopsticks are in my briefcase after too many times where I bought food in airports, sat down in the departure lounge to eat it, and discovered that I didn't have utensils. Chopsticks offend the TSA a lot less than a fork and knife and spoon.)

                                                                              2. re: ricepad

                                                                                Based on the rest of the thread, I think the more pertinent question is: "Why does it bother some people so much what other people do with their chopsticks?"

                                                                                1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                                                  Because you don't see people blotting their pizza in Asian restaurants.

                                                                                  1. re: Peter Cherches

                                                                                    one rarely see pizza in an asian restaurant....disposable chopsticks utilize cheap wood. i rarely if ever bother with rubbing them together, but it makes little difference to me when someone else does. as has been mentioned several times prior, better grade chopsticks do not warrant this action.

                                                                                    1. re: Peter Cherches

                                                                                      i go to a lot of functions where pizza is served and i see women blotting their pizza all the time. that said, I think that makes sense (lower calories) whereas the rubbing chopsticks thing doesn't. i've eaten with crappy wooden chopsticks all my life and have never gotten a splinter. If there is obvious wood falling off the crappy cheap chopstick, i guess you could ask for a new one. the biggest problem with the crappy ones is that they don't split properly and one breaks in half or something.

                                                                                    2. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                                                      Frankly, I don't care what people (other than Mrs. ricepad) do. I have to control myself when I see Mrs. ricepad doing it, tho, because it is an unnecessary and impolite practice, and it bothers me to see her behave unnecessarily and impolitely. She, OTOH, considers it a habit not worth investing the time to change.

                                                                                      ANALOG: If you want to drink from the fingerbowl, be my guest. It won't bother me. I'll try and discourage my wife from doing so, tho.

                                                                                  2. Hear hear.. I agree. And I am asian.

                                                                                    1. I don't find it rude, but I must of heard something about it somewhere because I will lower them under the table and swipe them a couple of times only if I see a splinter. I think most people do so while talking and are just going through the motions out of habit.
                                                                                      And by the way Chinese food just does not taste the same using a fork!

                                                                                      1. How about asking the chef if you can borrow his yanagiba sashimi knife to whittle down the chopstick? Is that bad manners?

                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                        1. re: thirtyeyes

                                                                                          Nice straw man you've got there.

                                                                                          If the chopsticks are inferior and you don't want to be whittling them down in public, just ask for a new pair, no drama needed.

                                                                                        2. Some people live their lives waiting for any upset to happen, as if they planned to be upset, when they get an excuse! That is the low road to take.
                                                                                          A happier way of life is to chuckle or just pass it off withOUT comment. That is the High road to Happiness!

                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: nutrition

                                                                                            Do you chuckle when people next to you talk loudly on the cell phone when you are trying to eat your dinner? How about if the food was so tasty, they stuck their fingers in it and then sucked their fingers? Blew their nose loudly? Call me uptight (although in Japan, I think it's considered being cognizant of the group and that one doesn't necessarily do in public everything one might do in the privacy of one's home), but I think good manners are nice.

                                                                                            1. re: omotosando

                                                                                              Good manners are not just nice but important. They ease the stress of interacting with others. But it's well known that customs and manners can vary from one country to another, sometimes quite widely. When you started this thread, were you referring to restaurant goers in Japan, or in the US? According to your profile your local board is Los Angeles, not Japan, so I'm not sure why you're so committed to insisting that your fellow diners adhere strictly to Japanese manners.

                                                                                              There have already been several reports like the one below, that the custom of rubbing off the sharp edges on cheap pull-apart chopsticks has become quite widespread in China. It's also clearly pretty widespread in the US. I understand that you were taught to find it offensive, and if I ever dine with you I will remember not to do so, but I really do think that you should try to accept the idea that the practice may be offensive in Japan but trivial elsewhere.

                                                                                              1. re: omotosando

                                                                                                I understand where you're coming from, but some of your posts give a slightly santized version of manners in Japan. First, I think we should all understand that chopstick etiquette is a non-issue when it comes to why certain places ban foriegners. I've never heard a single Japanese person complain about non-Asian chopstick use. Coke with sushi, yes. Chopsticks no. Secondly, I think I'm like you in that I have a tremendous amount of reverence for how things are done in Japan- for some things. But Japanese are right down the middle when it comes to table manners. Smoking, sucking, snorting, sneezing, cell phones, talking with your mouth full, pointing, you name it. I've seen it all and at nice restaurants too. And the younger generations are getting worse. Subway manners, I give to Japan. But dining manners- it's a draw.

                                                                                            2. just chipping in... American living in China for the past few years, and yes, cheap wooden chopsticks are pretty common here, and yes, I'd say around 75% of everyone rubs their chopsticks together before eating. many people try for subtlety by rubbing off to the side of their seat so splinters would fall to the floor and it's not in front of everyone else. it only happens when people get cheap crappy sticks though, if they're the nice disposables or plastic or polished wood, no one would bother doing this.

                                                                                              5 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: epay

                                                                                                As stated above, by myself and others, the type of disposable chopsticks often seen in Japan (with the chopsticks themselves milled, smoothed, and rounded and joined only at the top) are rather different from the cheaper kind (basically a piece of wood with a split in the middle) most often seen in China and here in the U.S. This may occasion different behavior and different standards of etiquette.

                                                                                                But then again I've also seen a fair number of Japanese people engage in the rubbing practice too, especially when presented with the cheaper variety of chopsticks.

                                                                                                1. re: Woodside Al

                                                                                                  Ditto. I've seen just as many Japanese and Chinese people rubbing the cheap balsa-type-wood sticks together, as well. Not for fear of splinters on one's lip but on one's fingers. (Been there, done that.) No need for a major production or fire-starting, of course -- just a quick swipe or two usually works. I've never seen anyone ever rub together any other kinds of sticks.

                                                                                                  1. re: Woodside Al

                                                                                                    While I tend to agree with you that there are different levels of quality to disposable chopsticks, the kind you mention (the rounded ones) are certainly available, but not so ubiquitous at the high-end places. There are also good quality versions of the standard rectangular split cut versions as well at ryokans in Japan. Here are some photos:
                                                                                                    http://farm1.static.flickr.com/15/680...
                                                                                                    http://farm1.static.flickr.com/18/680...
                                                                                                    http://farm1.static.flickr.com/33/680...
                                                                                                    http://farm1.static.flickr.com/40/766...
                                                                                                    http://farm1.static.flickr.com/42/743...
                                                                                                    http://farm1.static.flickr.com/161/35...

                                                                                                    I think the last photo is the only one with the rounded chopsticks. The chopsticks resting on the ingredients for a kaki-nabe (oyster hotpot) is a good example of what the better quality chopsticks look like un-split. No rubbing required.

                                                                                                    1. re: E Eto

                                                                                                      I was too busy staring at the food to notice any chopsticks.

                                                                                                      1. re: OCAnn

                                                                                                        Eric's pictures made me very hungry indeed... but chopsticks?... what chopsticks?

                                                                                                2. I rub the chopsticks (disposable ones in paper or plastic wrap) all the time. At first it was because Mom always warned of splinters. But one time, even after the halfhearted rubbing, I choked on what I thought was a fish bone (my meal did not consist of any seafood). Turns out the cheap disposable bamboo chopsticks, not the break-apart kind, had frayed at the eating end and long splinters were coming off into the food. I ALWAYS examine carefully for splinters and possible fraying now.

                                                                                                  1. I've only seen people rub the disposable chopsticks that you break in half. They look like they are made of pressed/die cut basil wood.

                                                                                                    I rub mine to smooth the edge and remove the splinters, and contrary to the charlie chaplin poster, it works just fine. I dont find it rude; but I do find it rude to be given these types of sticks and avoid places that use them unless the food is exceptional. I often have the round sticks in the red wrapper or a misc set of nondisposable sticks (square/noodle sticks).

                                                                                                    High end restaurants should not be serving their patrons with disposable chopsticks. Except for sushi restaurants. For some reason they all use those crappy die cut basil wood sticks. Doesnt bother me, sushi is finger food.

                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: Adversary

                                                                                                      This is an old thread I was part of originally, but I think you may be the first to insert the idea that there is something out of place with a restaurant (and I'd draw the line at sit-down vs. take-out based) even offering those real cheap balsa chopsticks to guests. The only time I rub my chopsticks together is when I'm given the kind that have obvious splintery bits on them when they're separated. I don't consider it rude to take defensive action to avoid splinters in your mouth. I don't know how much more the smoother/longer (attached only at the very end) type cost, but I'm always happier to find them used than the other kind. My local Chinese sit-down place uses the cheap kind for take-out and the better wood ones for table service. Both are single-use, so I've never quite understood that, especially since their take-out prices are they same as sit-down.

                                                                                                      1. re: Midlife

                                                                                                        I'm astonished at how many people are missing the point here. As anyone who's spent much time in East Asia knows, the rubbing-together of chopsticks is done to discharge any static electricity that may have accumulated while walking across the restaurant carpet to your table. Thousands of Asians suffer debilitating injuries each year, as a result of massive sparks that leap in a dazzling arc between an undischarged customer and the serving dish. Of course, American restaurateurs don't want you to know that, so news reports of it here are usually suppressed. You've been warned.

                                                                                                    2. I rub because "they" told me it would get rid of splinters. I've never seen splinters because I always rub! :-) Now it's just a habit since I'm 40 and have been doing it for at least 25 years... I'm not going to change. I only rub wooden chopsticks that I have to break apart.

                                                                                                      The only time I automatically wipe down all the utensil is in a Chinese restaurant. I do it because my mom told me to... I don't know if she meant I should do that in all restaurants or Chinese restaurants, since we only ate in Chinese restaurants when I was still "in training." The workers in the Chinese restaurants shouldn't be insulted... they're used to it, and I'm sure the employees all do it when they eat in Chinese restaurants too!

                                                                                                      1. Eat sushi with your fingers? I have never seen anyone in a restaurant eat their sushi with their fingers. Lick your fingers clean in a public restaurant? That's just wrong.

                                                                                                        8 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: NJgourmetchef_Iamnot

                                                                                                          Actually, it is perfectly acceptable to eat your nigiri sushi with your fingers.

                                                                                                          1. re: NJgourmetchef_Iamnot

                                                                                                            Thta's actually the traditional way to eat sushi. Fish side down. Chopsticks for gari and other stuff.

                                                                                                            1. re: limster

                                                                                                              Chef Yasuda at Sushi Yasuda in New York City lectured me for 15 minutes on the fact that sushi is meant to be eaten rice side down, not fish side up. He said that a well-known Japanese chef (name escapes me) wrote a sushi book years ago where he emphasized the fish side down approach. According to Yasuda, this set the sushi world back years.

                                                                                                              1. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                is there a typo somewhere: "that sushi is meant to be eaten rice side down, not fish side up." You mean "rice side down, not fish side down"?

                                                                                                                What's the rationale for rice side down and how did that differ from the other well-known chef?

                                                                                                                1. re: limster

                                                                                                                  "Rice side down" is the proper way, according to Yasuda-san. I didn't get the rationale, but I'll ask next time. But he commented something to the effect of "that if you eat fish side down, don't you find it strange that you have to flip your sushi to get it into your mouth?".....Still, when he looked away, I was flipping to fish down...

                                                                                                                  Edit: Now I recall that he used the analogy of pizza, asking, "do you flip pizza cheese side down when you put it in your mouth?".

                                                                                                                  1. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                    I was wondering if it was about the relative importance different chefs were placing on the rice vs the fish. Hope to hear about it if you get a chance to ask. Thanks!

                                                                                                                  2. re: limster

                                                                                                                    Although I find it strange flipping the sushi to get it in my mouth, I understand the rationale. I want to taste the fish and not the rice! I don't agree with the pizza analogy because (1) I spend more time chewing pizza (bigger bites) than I do sushi, (2) sushi has subtler flavors, and (3) pizza is too big to flip.

                                                                                                                  3. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                    Silverjay, did you mistype something like limster said?

                                                                                                                    "rice side down" and "fish side up" are the same thing no?

                                                                                                                    What was Chef Yasuda telling you to do exactly?

                                                                                                              2. it is very rude to do that in japan, i never saw a japanese person do that in my two years there. sushi may very well be finger food, but it is still almost always eaten using chopsticks, and anyone who refers to them as "oohashi" on this page should be beaten over the head with their japanese dictionary.

                                                                                                                4 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: switters

                                                                                                                  This is a long post and sometimes replies show up in ways where it's hard to be sure what the references are. You say sushi is "almost always" eaten with chopsticks...... so are you saying in two years there you never saw anyone eat it with their fingers but 'sometimes' it is? Is that considered bad taste in your experience in Japan? And....... would you explain the "oohashi" reference? I'm not at all familiar with the term and didn't notice it in the posts above. Just curious.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Midlife

                                                                                                                    Sushi is traditionally a finger food. It's not unusual at all to see people eating it without chopsticks in Japan. However, chopsticks are far more common.

                                                                                                                  2. re: switters

                                                                                                                    Maybe they REALLY LIKE the cheap ones! ;o)

                                                                                                                    1. re: switters

                                                                                                                      There must be more factors at play here. In my travel to Tokyo and then out to about 10 rural cities, the method I saw the most was using fingers.

                                                                                                                    2. To make a fire?

                                                                                                                      I'm from a Chinese American family. I've never felt the need to rub my c'sticks together or seen anyone else in my family do it.

                                                                                                                      I haven't spent a huge amount of time in Japan--only two weeks at a time--but I never saw anyone do it there, either.

                                                                                                                      Still, who cares? If someone wants to rub, I understand the appeal. It's sort of a fun, cave(wo)man thing to do. And if it makes you feel safer and less at risk of splinters while eating, who am I to stop you? Carry on.

                                                                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: cimui

                                                                                                                        Your family used the cheap, soft wood, paper wrapped chopsticks at home?

                                                                                                                        1. re: Billy Bob

                                                                                                                          We certainly did, growing up near Yokohama. When those sushi/katsu/donburi delivery kids rode up on their bikes and dropped off the goods, there was always a bunch of waribashi in there. We never bothered to go get the good ones out of the drawer - just used up what was delivered. Of course, there's been some stuff written about how the Asian use of waribash is beginning to cause a wood shortage! But back in the 50's I doubt if anybody gave it a thought.

                                                                                                                          1. re: applehome

                                                                                                                            Hah, that's what I do, now.

                                                                                                                          2. re: Billy Bob

                                                                                                                            No, but we sometimes ate out at restaurants that did give us paper wrapped chopsticks. And we used them.