A pair of hashi (chopsticks)
is something you casually use every day.
As lacquer ware you are most familiar with, they are something you cannot go without when eating in Japan. They are widely used in countries in East Asia, and although using a pair of sticks is universal, each country has their own different lengths and shapes depending on the food culture. When were they introduced to Japan, and how did they change? As we show you their history, let us introduce you to the attraction of hashi, a daily necessity and also a small work of art.
What is hashi?
Hashi (chopsticks) are the same as hashi (bridge), in that both connect two sides, so the hashi utensil connects food with the person eating.
It is said that the word “hashi” was originally a combination of the classical Japanese words “ha (both sides)” and “shi (bind, fix).” So hashi often become wedding gifts as an “intermediary” between husband and wife.
The pair of sticks has 12 functions — “pinch, hold, hold down, scoop, rip, put on, peel, loosen, wrap, cut, carry, and mix,” so hashi are not just tools, but are thought to serve as part of the human organ. Further, in Japan, hashi are special daily items that are usually not shared even among a married couple or parents and children, each having a pair of their own. (members of families also have their own soup bowls, rice bowls, tea cups, etc.).
Origin of hashi
It is said that the origin of hashi goes back to around 300 B.C., when people in China started to use fire when cooking, and they were used as tools to cook and to eat hot food.
History of hashi in Japan
During the Asuka period (592-710), hashi was introduced to Japan as a “sacred treasure” from China and the Korean Peninsula. Originally, they were folding bamboo chopsticks (like tweezers), and they gradually changed to two lacquered sticks. At first, they were used when placing offerings to god, and it was said that hashi were only used by god and the emperor.
As Japan entered the Nara period (710-784), hashi began to be used by aristocrats as well. Most of them were made of bamboo, but some were wooden without coating. Although details of everyday necessities are not on record, it is said that commoners started to use hashi during the Kamakura period (1185-1333).
During mid-Edo period (1603-1868), as a local industry, each clan competed with each other by making lacquer ware, resulting in the development of lacquered hashi. Places of lacquer ware production known today were mostly established at this period, and at the same time, lacquered hashi became diversified. At the end of Edo period, rich townspeople and merchants used lacquered hashi to show off social status, so the commoners had not yet started using them. Incidentally, hashi were recycled as those used by eel restaurants were shaved and used by soba restaurants, and hashi used by soba restaurants were then painted and used by cheap eateries.
From the Meiji period (1868-1912) to Showa 20’s (1945-1954), hashi used by commoners were mainly bamboo hashi or unpainted wooden hashi.
During the Showa 30’s (1955-1964), the period of rapid economic growth, many chemical coated hashi were produced in traditional production areas of lacquered hashi, which were extremely cheaper than lacquered hashi, as drying machines were used to dry the coating. In this way, the cheaper hashi expanded their share in the market.
What are the differences among hashi used in China, South Korea, and Japan?
Hashi are used not only in Japan, but in China and Korea as well. How different are they compared to hashi used in Japan?
They use hashi that are longer, and both ends of the sticks are about the same thickness. The Chinese use the china spoon along with the hashi.
Koreans use hashi that are silver (metal), and they are somewhat flat shaped.
It is said that the reason they are made from metal is because they had many wars going on, and durability was needed when carrying them around, and the silver used in the hashi also served as a poison taster (the color changed reacting to poison), among other reasons. Further, they are flat to make the weight of the metal lighter.
They use hashi along with a spoon (sutgarak).
They are characteristic for their narrow tips. They had developed into this shape to use when eating delicate food. Basically, Japanese food is eaten using only hashi. However, there are dishes that cannot be eaten by only hashi such as miso soup, so in Japan, hashi and soup bowls are a set. In the olden days, when people went on a journey, it is said that they brought both hashi and a bowl. When counting things, the Japanese language has various ways depending on what you count. A pair of hashi would be “zen.” So a pair of hashi (for one person) is “one zen.”
Further, there is the “iwai bashi (hashi used for celebrations),” which have narrow tips on both sides of the sticks, and are used during New Years’ to eat osechi ryori (New Year dishes). The reason both ends of the hashi are narrow is because one side is for the person to use, and the other side is for god to eat the osechi ryori. When using a regular hashi, some people use the tip that is not narrow to dish out food from large plates, but in the case of iwai bashi, you cannot do that, since the other tip is reserved for god.
Iwai bashi used during New Year’s are put into hashi bukuro (chopstick envelope) and offered
How to use hashi
Today, it is said that the number of Japanese that can use hashi properly is about 30%. This means that many people cannot use hashi correctly, but even so, when you see someone not being able to use them properly when eating, they give you a strange feeling. Being able to use hashi correctly allows the person to use them and eat food more easily. Once you fall into a habit of using hashi in an odd way, it is difficult to correct it. We hope you will practice using them step by step every day, and enjoy eating various Japanese food such as sashimi, sushi, tempura, and ramen.
Try practicing using hashi in the following order.
1: first, choose the right size for yourself.
In order to use them everyday in the proper way, it is important to choose a pair that is easy to use. As in the photo, spread your hand with the thumb and index finger in a right angle. The length between the two finger tips is called “hito (one) ata” and the right hashi length for you is 1.5 times this length, which is called “hitoata han.”
2: Hold just one hashi and move it around.
1/3 away from the tip of the thick end is where to place your thumb and index finger and trap the hashi firmly in place. Place your middle finger on the hashi and hold using three fingers. This is also the way to hold a pencil in Japan. Lightly hold on, not too tightly. After you hold the hashi, try writing the number “1” by moving it vertically. Use just your fingers, and not your wrist, and write a large “1” In the air.
3: Try holding the other hashi as well.
If you get used to it, insert the hashi between the base of your thumb and the first knuckle joint of your third finger while you hold the upper hashi.
4: Try moving just the upper hashi.
Hold the lower hashi with your left hand so it won’t move and write a large “1” in the air again by moving just the upper hashi.
5: When you get used to it, take your left hand off the hashi and practice.
The point here is to be able to make a triangle with the tips of both hashi, since the two hashi should be positioned wide apart.
6. If you can move the tips making a taping sound, you are all set.
Don’t think too hard. Even if you can’t get it right during your meal, you can practice before eating bit by bit every day, and eventually, you will be able to use hashi beautifully. Along with the correct way, there is also bad manners when using hashi called “kirai bashi.”
Sashi-bashi: Spearing food with hashi.
Neburi-bashi: Licking the food on the ends of hashi.
Mayoi-bashi: Waving the hashi around over the food, trying to decide what to take.
Yose-bashi: Pulling the dishes that are far towards you using the hashi.
Watashi-bashi: Putting hashi on tableware. (This means “I am finished eating.”)
Hashi-watashi: Giving and taking food directly from another person as both use hashi. (This reminds people of “hone age” *1 of the deceased at a funeral)
Futari-bashi: When two or more people try to take food from a dish at the same time.
Ogami-bashi: At the start of the meal, joining hands as if praying and placing hashi between both thumbs and index fingers and saying “Let’s eat!”
*1 “hone age”: It is one of the manners after cremation. The bones of the deceased are picked up by hashi and put into an urn. It is to connect the deceased to the next world.
There are much more bad manners concerning hashi, actually. Please be careful about your manners when having a meal with others, so that you will all enjoy the food.
Places to buy hashi
There are no particular kind of wood for making hashi. They are made from various kinds of wood, and depending on the material and coating, the weight of hashi differ. This heaviness (lightness) is one of the important elements when choosing hashi. This everyday utensil can be found in supermarkets and variety shops, but if you go to a hashi specialty shop, you can find various traditional local lacquered hashi, original hashi, hashi rests and bowls that go with hashi, and more. You can also ask the store clerks questions when choosing.
A shop under direct management of a long-established manufacturer of Fukui Prefecture
■Hyozaemon (Tokyo and other areas)
Hyozaemon is a manufacturer of hashi that produces, sells wholesale, and markets. It has its main office in Obama City, Fukui Prefecture. With the understanding that hashi are put in the mouth, they try to make products that are safe and reliable, so one of the things they do is use lacquer that is 100% natural for the tip of hashi. They have various shops that they manage directly, as well as selling their products in department stores nationwide. Their first shop in Hiroo has about 1,000 types of hashi with “Wakasa nuri” hashi, a traditional hashi of Fukui Prefecture as their main product. We have heard that many of their customers come to the shop looking for items that would make good gifts. Hiroo is not a sightseeing area, but many foreign tourists seem to shop there.
They have an array of hashi such as the well-known “Kattobashi,” which are hashi made from broken baseball bats used in domestic teams, and gorgeous hashi with Swarovski decoration. Among foreign tourists, “Raden” hashi that has pieces of sea shells inside and hashi with durable tips that are dish washer proof are popular. At their Tokyo Station Gransta Shop and Kabukiza Shop (both shops carry the name “Nihonbo,”) they sell original hashi. You can personalize your hashi at their Hiroo Shop and Tokyo Station Gransta Shop.
“Wakasa nuri” hashi are decorated using egg shells, sea shells, pine needles, etc. with Fukui’s Wakasa Bay as motif. The lacquer is applied in many layers, then carefully polished up.
Each one of these “Kezuri bashi (carved hashi)” is carefully carved by craftsmen to create a shape that is easy to hold in the hand. They have two sizes: large and small. 2,808 yen per pair.
This one is perfect for a wedding gift which is a set of two pairs of hashi and two hashi rests. They come in a paulownia wood box. 5,788 yen per set
“Hyozaemon Hiroo Shop” is 1 minute away on foot from Hiroo Station.
“Hyozaemon Hiroo Shop”
●5-3-9, Hiroo, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
●Closed Tuesdays (open when Tuesday falls on a holiday, and also during December)
●11:00-20:00 (Monday, Wednesday thru Saturday; closes at 19:00 on Sundays and holidays)
●Dishwasher proof hashi 1,944 yen, Raden hashi 1,620 yen and up
“Easy personalizing” will take 15 minutes or more, and can be returned to you on the same day. Hiragana, katakana, alphabets (capital letters only). Fee is 324 yen per pair. *If you made a reservation for personalizing after 17:00, they may not be able to give them back to you on the same day.
For “Laser name printing,” you can choose kanji and alphabets (lower-case letters) as well as the above letters. Fee is 1,296 yen per pair.
For “Tegaki (hand writing) personalizing,” you can have your own hand writing or illustrations on the hashi. Fee is 1,620 yen.
For Laser and Tegaki personalizing, they will take 10 to 14 days to finish.
“Nihonbo Tokyo Station Gransta Shop”
●Gransta (shop is inside ticket gates), B1floor of Tokyo Station, 1-9-1, Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
●Open all year
●9:00-22:00 (Mondays thru Saturdays, and holidays; closes at 21:00 on Sundays and last day of consecutive holiday)
* “Easy personalization” possible. Reservations until 16:00)
“Nihonbo Kabukiza Shop”
●Kobikicho Hiroba, Kabukiza B2 floor, 4-12-15, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
(You can go to the shop directly from Higashi Ginza Subway Station, so no need to enter Kabukiza to shop)
●Closed end of year and New Year’s holidays
●9:30-18:30 (closes at 18:00 when there are no performances)
By having your name on your hashi makes them even more special, doesn’t it?
The shop has an array of hashi, which is more than 3,500 types
■“Ginza Natsuno” (Tokyo and other areas)
“We want many people to use and enjoy hashi, the best lacquered tool for Japanese.” With this sentiment, a specialty shop of hashi, the most familiar lacquer ware, opened in Ginza in 1999. They are aiming to becoming the best hashi specialty shop in Japan. We have heard that the owner went to different places whenever time allowed, and looked for the right hashi, and started business. The Ginza shop in particular has 3,500 types of hashi and more than 1,000 types of hashi rests from all over Japan. There are so many you’ll find it difficult to decide. They also have original hashi made by a collaboration of different areas. We have heard that carrying around your own hashi is popular once again, and so original hashi cases with metal clasps seems to be popular. They have six shops within Tokyo. At their Ginza Main Shop, they sell high-priced items as well as small items and containers. At their Tokyo Skytree Solamachi Shop, they sell Skytree hashi that are sold only at the Solamachi Shop.
Ginza Main Shop. It is packed with hashi and other small items. More people seem to choose hashi as a present because they are small, affordable, something always used, and the dinner table can be fun with fun hashi.
The two pairs on the left are elegant, but not too flashy with large raden decoration. “Kuromitsu,” and “Akamitsu” 12,960 yen per pair. The two pairs on the right are lacquered only on the top half, making food such as noodles easier to hold, and the price is more affordable. They are popular “Wakasa nuri Ichimatsu Casual” that come in large, medium and small sizes. 4,860 yen.
This hashi case with a metal clasp was made by a Kyoto picture framer.
●Takahashi Building 1st floor, 6-7-4, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
●Open all year
●10:00-20:00 (Sundays, holidays, last day of consecutive holidays close at 19:00)
*Reserve to personalize your hashi by 18:30, and you can have them back on the same day. Kanji, hiragana, katakana, alphabets (capital/lower-case letters).
*Fee to personalize: 432 yen per pair
Tokyo Skytree Town Solamachi Shop
●Open all year
●10:00-21:00 (during end of the year and New Year’s holiday, shop will follow business hours of the facility)
*Reserve to have hashi personalized by 17:30, and you will have them back on same day. Kanji, hiragana, katakana, alphabets (capital/lower-case letters).
They have hashi that are collaborations of two production areas
■“Hashiya Kaede” (Kyoto)
It is a small hashi shop standing near Kyoto’s Kodai-ji Temple, run by a married couple. “Hashi is something you use every day, but we’d like our customers to have a more fun and richer life by, for example, changing your hashi to a “hare bashi” to eat a good meal on a hare (celebrative) day, just like you would wear your best clothes on a celebrative occasion.” This is their concept, so all their hashi are classy and playful, and all originals of the shop.
The pair of hashi itself is a Wajima lacquered hashi, and Kyoto’s lacquer craftsmen paint pictures mainly under three themes — “traditional,” “Japanese Modern,” and “has a story to it.” This allows the collaboration of two different areas of production, which are Wajima and Kyoto. The designs using the characteristic that hashi are made from two sticks is fun just looking at them.
The motif is Yasaka Pagoda and Kukurizaru 3,800 yen
A unique picture of a fox mask (white) 1,700 yen
The theme is night and day of Kyoto 2,100 yen
The shop is on a lane is elegant with the stone pavement and rickshaw passing by
●408, Kinencho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
*Personalizing hashi will be done using lacquer, and will take 2 weeks to a month at the latest. (cannot finish on the day bought) Basically, fee to personalize is 500 yen per pair.
*All fees include tax for all shops.
Summary of hashi
Hashi have about 1,400 years of history in Japan. Once you start to use a particular pair, you use the same pair for a long time without really thinking about them, but hashi have actually changed, reflecting the social trend of the time. Today, aside from traditional lacquered and natural type hashi, there are hashi made from various materials. Choosing a pair can be difficult but also fun. We hope you have fun choosing hashi as a special lacquer ware for yourself, or as souvenirs and gifts.
(Collecting materials on the historical calendar and photos of how to use hashi was made possible with the cooperation of Hyozaemon Hiroo Shop)
*The above information was last updated August 5, 2018. For further details, please contact the facilities directly.
"Like" if you think this article is interesting