When you look for images of Asian cuisine on the Internet, you'll come across many images of colorful dishes, almost all accompanied by pairs of wooden or metal rods, colored or natural. Chopsticks are an object halfway between cutlery, kitchen utensil and objet d'art.

Chopsticks have a long history, beginning in China before 1200 BCE (before the Common Era). According to Sima Qian, historian of the Han dynasty (206 BCE. to 220 CE), chopsticks were already known in China before the Shang dynasty (1766-1122 BCE). But there is no textual or archaeological evidence to support this claim.

In Japan, for example, the earliest official written evidence of chopstick use in that country dates back to 712 CE in the book entitled Kojiki (古事記, litt. Chronique des faits anciens also pronounced Furukoto fumi), where the appearance of the "Japanese" chopstick is recorded. 

The use of chopsticks became popular throughout most of Asia, and each country adapted chopsticks to their culture.

The Japanese word for "chopstick" is hashi, homophone of the Japanese word for "bridge". The concept of chopsticks serving as bridges is a recurring motif in Japanese culture, reflected in distinctive shapes and materials that vary according to the occasions on which they are used. In Japan's predominant Shinto religion, rather than being used to eat ordinary meals, they were first used to share food with the gods. It was believed that when a pair of chopsticks was offered to a deity, the chopsticks became inhabited by that deity. When these chopsticks were used to eat the food offered to them, then mortals and immortals dined together, forming a bridge between the two worlds. For this reason, chopsticks play a special symbolic role in Shinto birth, marriage and death ceremonies. Moreover, the Shinto faith is heavily charged with the themes of purity and renewal.

Following on from this religious role, chopsticks in Japan have taken on the role of kitchen utensils and everyday cutlery. Thanks to their slender, elongated shape (tapered), chopsticks are available in a wide range of variations, materials and decorating techniques, to suit every need:

- Hashi: these are the traditional Japanese chopsticks used for meals, averaging 20 cm in length. Children's hashi are very kawai (cute) and can be tied or are tied at the top for ease of use.

- Meoto-bashi: these are two pairs of chopsticks of different sizes, specially designed for couples' gifts and often elaborately decorated.

- Ryoribashi: these are Japanese chopsticks used for cooking. They are longer, from 30 to 40 cm, and are used for handling cold or slightly hot ingredients.

- Saibashi are food-preparation chopsticks used for hot dishes and deep-frying, where they are made of metal.

- Waribashi: these are disposable Japanese chopsticks, created in 1878 CE, made of bamboo wood, often used in restaurants around the world for hygiene reasons, and often even at home.


Chopsticks became increasingly popular in the West with the rise of Japonism in the 1860s, a movement in which the opening up of Japan enabled enthusiasts to bring back to the West a large number of artistic objects, including decorated and lacquered chopsticks. Then, with the popularization of Asian restaurants around the world from the 1920s onwards, notably Chinese restaurants each offering baguettes, came the rise of the "take away" culture, which exploded during the containment of the Covid pandemic. What's more, thanks to internet commerce, it's now very easy to buy every possible variety of chopstick - decorated, simple, in multiple materials and lengths - in just a few clicks. Just like Chinese soup spoons, chopsticks are now part decoration, part utensil, but adopted everywhere.



It's a Japanese custom not to throw away used chopsticks. There is a temple, the Kochi Hachiman-Gû temple in the town of Kôchi (on the island of Shikoku), where the Hashi Kuyô festival is held every year. Used chopsticks are taken to the temple god, the chopsticks kami, where they are burned. The kami is thanked for being able to eat every day. Over 10,000 chopsticks are burned here every February.