Dear Miyabi fans!

Let me ask you a question: “How many different types of Japanese chopsticks do you know? How many different names of chopsticks do you know? ”

You won’t believe how many words are formed in the Japanese language with the character hashi in the sense of eating sticks. You may learn quite a few lessons of basic Japanese speech, but you will be far from mastering enough about chopsticks and their folklore. In my article alone you will find at least twenty-six hashi hashtags. You need to know all about chopsticks so that you can say you know well Japanese culture. Through chopsticks, you may understand much about the Japanese and Japan. And yet, chopsticks are just two sticks. Two wands. My friend, an artist who came to Japan to visit my family long ago, complained to me that he didn’t understand himself in terms of chopsticks. He did not know how to take the Japanese soul as to ohashi. How comes that the Japanese in old times simply ripped two sticks from a tree and surprisingly they still eat with those simple tools without doing much progress. Why didn’t they accept the beautiful and useful cutlery from the West with a whole history of stunning styles. Why didn’t they throw away their chopsticks? My friend even wanted to name the Japanese primitive people. Then, as if by the way, he switched to pottery and said that what we now discover and chant as modern has been created by the Japanese already for centuries. For example, their vases with glaze, which seemed to flow by accident. They are so beautiful. The Japanese admired this kind of beauty many hundreds of years ago and still admire it. Like those chopsticks. My friend looked upset. He was frustrated and I was getting angry with him. Before I could find the right words to defend chopstick and the Japanese philosophy behind, my friend overcame vanity and humbly said: “Their eating wands are just two sticks. But I can’t help myself, I admire their sticks and everything around them! ”

We foreigners often admire in Japan things as things of Japanese origin, but they are not. Often they actually originated in China. The custom of eating with chopsticks was also brought by the inhabitants of the Japanese islands from mainland China. It was sometime in the sixth or seventh century. Until then, people in Japan ate with their hands and used spoons. If they had chopsticks, then it was a tool for cooking, but not for eating. At first, chopsticks were used in Buddhist monasteries and very quickly in the Imperial court. Simple wooden chopsticks remained the ideal of chopsticks. They served as a tool in spiritual ceremonies and in eating in Buddhist monasteries, where monks and nuns practiced a certain dose of asceticism. The original Japanese religion was greatly influenced by Shintoism, with its popularity in pure white wood, unpainted and precisely polished. Such wood symbolizes for the Japanese the connection of man with nature and deities.

Even in our regions in the West, people ate with their hands first. Then they made a spoon and it was wooden. It was not until the 17th century that the spoon, fork and knife became the basic tools of feasting. The wood was only for the poor. Manufacturers competed in how beautiful tools they make and what precious metal they use. Yes, our cutlery are incomparably more lavish tools than wooden chopsticks. And how many types of cutlery we have! The sets contain basic, starter or dessert sets. We have various steak knives and others for fish. There are cutlery for cheese or fruit. Other tools are for oysters. Cutlery is made of precious metals and has undergone various styles over the centuries. They are all beautiful objects. Often collectible jewelry. And yet surprisingly we people of the Western lifestyle do not attach even a similar respect to the most beautiful fork, knife or spoon as the Japanese pay two sticks made of ordinary unpainted wood.

Why is that so? In our Western culture, we give knives, forks and spoons names according to what we want to eat with them. They are tools. In Japan, however, people give ohashi sticks names according to what they communicate and what atmosphere they depict. What they promote. What relationships do they create. Ohashi symbolizes ordinary life situations as well as life milestones from birth, through the rite of adulthood, marriage and finally farewell. For example, chopsticks for celebrating the birth of a child are called okuizomebashi. With these chopsticks, the adults feed to their children the baby’s first rice, usually it is one hundred and one days after birth. The chopsticks at a wedding reception have a different name and the chopsticks at a funeral ceremony have a different name too. Tatebashi standing chopsticks are for the dead to know that the living thinks of them and offer them something good to eat. When a person transgresses etiquette, his or her chopsticks are namidabashi, that is, sticks for which tears flow. Chopsticks are often a very popular gift. For example for a newlyweds. These are called miotobashi – the ohashi of the bride and groom. When we foreigners in Japan receive a gift, it is often ohashi for celebrating the meeting. These are called oiwaibashi. They symbolize the spirit of the Japanese lifestyle and culture, including the hospitality that the Japanese have elevated into art. Have you ever given someone a fork and a knife? As a gift? I do not.

There are many different situations in our lives. Serious and comical. Also the meanings of chopsticks are serious and comical. They are also descriptive and informative. Some express private events and other social events. Descriptive include for instance ryoukuchibashi chopsticks, chopsticks with two identical ends or katakuchibashi, chopsticks with only one end for eating. There are waribashi sticks, those that break in two and are disposable. Chopsticks called manabashi are designed for eating fish. Saibashi chopsticks are for eating vegetables. The chopsticks can be lacquered nuribashi or white shirakibashi chopsticks. The chopsticks for picking up from a shared plate are toribashi, and the chopsticks with which the respective eater always eats are jikabashi. The sticks used for a ceremony purpose are called harenobashi. Sacral sticks are shinhashi and spiritual sticks are reibashi. Chopsticks called Rikyuubashi are named according to the father of the Tea ceremony Sen no Rikyuu, and are used to eat kaiseki meal in the Tea ceremony. There are also chopsticks used on the occasion of birthdays – enmeibashi. When you wish someone a long age you do it through choujubashi or wishing a simple luck through fukujubashi. There is a funny name for chopsticks when someone hunts/moves with chopsticks for a long time, for example in soup. These are saguribashi.  When one cannot choose what to eat and moves chopsticks from bowl to bowl, then his or her chopsticks are mayoibashi.  The name comes from the verb mayou, to be hesitant. And when someone wicks his chopsticks in his mouth, such sticks are neburibashi. This is a word that resembles a pacifier.

So many names, so many situations, so much of though behind. The Japanese experienced the connection of man with nature and deities and the connection of man with man so deeply that they wisely stayed with ordinary wooden chopsticks as tools for eating, so that ohashi chopsticks could remind them every day again and again that the most important life motive should be thanksgiving . Thanksgiving for the gifts of life and gifts of community. In addition, the chopsticks, with the sound of their word, remind us that we need bridges of connection for relationships. It may not be a coincidence that the bridge is also called hashi in Japanese, it just has a different character. Ohashi and hashi. Eating chopsticks and bridges. That’s why I say that wands and a bridge are one.

Yours, Miyabi Darja

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