You Should Never Do This With Your Chopsticks In Japan

Chopsticks have been around a while — since 5000 BCE, in fact, and they are even said to have a link with Chinese philosopher Confucius, who believed that blunt utensils such as chopsticks were preferable, because having utensils with sharp points at dinner could be seen as being too violent. From China, chopsticks made their way to Japan, where they were first used in religious ceremonies, and were made with just one piece of bamboo, making them look more like tongs and less like two individual sticks (via Smithsonian Magazine). 

Because they've been around for a while, it's easy to see why a body of customs and beliefs evolved around these popular, practical utensils. In Malaysia, for instance, getting an uneven pair of chopsticks means you're going to miss your boat or plane. In Korea, the closer to the tip you hold your chopsticks, the longer you're likely to remain single. But what is the big faux pas many in-the-dark diners in Japan commit when they're in possession of a pair of chopsticks and a hefty bowl of rice?

Planting chopsticks in a rice bowl is a huge taboo

Just as European and American diners have table etiquette that has been etched in stone (thank you, Miss Manners), the Japanese have their own rules for what are considered to be good table manners, and many of these rules center around the use of chopsticks. For instance, you cannot lift your chopsticks until those who are more senior have done so. Don't use your chopsticks to point at people or food. Even if Japanese chopsticks are pointier than Chinese ones, you cannot use it to stab food to serve yourself. Don't rub two sticks together. Then there is the ultimate taboo of planting your chopsticks so that they stand upright in your rice bowl (via JR Pass).

It might seem like a practical idea to keep chopsticks clean by keeping them anchored to your rice, but because this presentation resembles the incense sticks (via Smithsonian Magazine) most commonly used during funeral rituals, it is to be strictly avoided when you're enjoying an informal meal with friends, or a more formal one with business associates (via Live Japan). The practice is so egregious, it is taboo in other East Asian countries like China (via Everything What).

An informal survey published by What Japan Thinks considers propping up chopsticks to be one of the most obvious violations of table etiquette, making it the one rule that you're likely not going to get a free pass on.