"Hashi" is the Japanese term for what people in the West call "chopsticks". I must admit to a slight shudder of revulsion at the term "chopsticks". In Japanese, it is very common to refer to them as "O-hashi", "honoured" or "respected". Hashi allow food to be prepared and presented, for dishes to be eaten and savoured, in a way that is graceful and simple for both the cook and the person dining.

I have several sets of beautifully proportioned rosewood hashi that I use daily. Others of lacquer. They are masterfully balanced, elegantly formed.

It's just me. Call them whatever pleases you, of course. But please think about it a bit.

Some tips to avoid embarassment when using hashi in Japan or with Japanese friends:

• Never leave the hashi standing up in a bowl of rice, as it is offensive, reminding the Japanese of funeral incense.

• Never pass food with the 'eating' end of hashi. If you must pass food, use the 'blunt' ends.

• Do not use your hashi to point at others or things.

An initially confusing but inevitably easy and elegant way to consume nearly any kind of food. After 5 meals one should be proficient at their use, and after a month in any Asian country, it will be second nature.

The Japanese (and myself) typically prefer o-hashi to western utensils as they are far more versitle than a fork and japanese manners usually render a knife unnecessary. Soups are often noisily slurped directly from the bowl even; thus spoons are a rare sight as well.

O-hashi are better known as chopsticks in the west, of course. They consist of two long sticks, perhaps 1.5 times the length of a hand, which one manipulates with one hand to grab food from your plate for delivery to your mouth. Hashi come in many shapes, sizes, colors, textures, and materials, and one may purchase sets of various lengths, weights, and balances to fit one's hand perfectly.

Chinese people often say that holding your chopsticks close to the eating tips indicates that you will marry somone from near your home, while holding them close to the blunt ends predicts marriage with someone from far away.

My wife comes from 12 time-zones (half the world) away from my hometown, but when I met her I still held my chopsticks close to the tips. Believe what you choose. I have, however, learned to hold them close to the blunt ends, which I see to be more common among people with good manners.

I have posted a few other comments on chopstick etiquette at Things You Should Never Do With Chopsticks.

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