Did you know that the chopsticks have another use aside from holding food?
Here in Japan, the chopsticks are set horizontally between you and your meals.
Why do Japanese people do that?
When did this practice start?
Food is recognized as a sacred thing that Kami give to human beings.
Kami: this is the Japanese term for the Shinto deities. According to Shinto belief, Kami exists everywhere, such as mountains, rocks, water, fire, a grain of rice and so on.
So, we prepare food in front of us and put the chopsticks between us and our meals.
It means that the chopsticks work as the sacred boundary to separate the sacred natural world from our real world.
Before we start eating meals, we say “Itadakimasu” in Japanese.
Actually, this Japanese term is very difficult to translated into English.
It means that we appreciate Kami, nature, mothers or cooks and all the people that provide these meals.
It’s also an appreciation for the living creatures such as fishes, chickens and pigs and so on which sacrifice themselves in order for human beings to survive.
After saying “Itadakimasu”, we break the sacred boundary by holding the chopsticks and start eating meals.
The Japanese word for the chopsticks is “hashi“, which is the homonym of the word “hashi”, which means bridge.
Once the meals has started, the sacred natural world and our real world seem to be connected by the bridge（the chopsticks）.
That’s why the chopsticks may be called the same pronunciation of the bridge.
Block any Evil Sprits
In the old days, people were afraid of the evil spirits which caused the problems, epidemic, calamity and so on.
And sometimes the evil spirits were considered to reside in the human beings’ negative and mean thoughts and manipulate people into doing the wrong things.
Since they are invisible, people tried to drive away the evil spirits by making sounds and using plants’ spiritual power and their scents.
A good example is the fireworks display.
Eating food is one of the dangerous opportunities to encounter the evil spirits.
People tend to be obsessed with food.
And they can not control their desires to enjoy delicious food.
The evil spirits love not only the food itself but also people’s obsession of food .
So, in order not to be possessed by the evil spirits, people should start using the chopsticks.
Which means, the chopsticks would block any evil sprits.
Japanese people seem to have inherited so many traditions and practices since the ancient times to protect themselves from the prosperous but sometimes awful world.
Here is also popular theory.
It’s said to be rude when the sharp parts of the chopsticks are pointed to someone who is seated in front of you.
So, we don’t set the chopsticks vertically.
FYI, the rice bowl is placed on the left side, while the soup bowl is placed on the right side (see the photo below).
As you may remember, left was considered as the higher position in Japan. (->Which Position is Higher ? Right? or Left?/左右どっちが偉い？)
So, our staple food, rice, has been considered highly precious since the old days.
Japanese people have practiced the chopsticks setting around 1200 years.
This setting is deeply ingrained among us.
So, Japanese people would keep doing the same way for another 1200 years.
Don’t you think so?
Does your country have any traditional table manners?
We’d love to know it.
Why don’t you share it?