OHASHI, a mini reflection.

As a sincere amateur I venture to discuss an object, that I only know from my personal experience. Several years I wonder how chopsticks came into existence.

In my native language chopsticks are called ‘eetstokjes’, eating-sticks, fair and clear enough. However what does a word like ‘chopsticks’ really mean ? A ‘chophouse’ is a cheap restaurant. A ‘chop’ is also a cutlet. There’s the expression: “to lick one’s chops” [means whiskers]. ‘Chop’ / ‘cut’ / ‘hack’ / ‘hew’ / ‘mince’ appear in the same row in my dictionary. Who knows should teach me, please !

The resemblance with a fork in terms of function is, that fingers are kept clean and cannot be hurt by touching food or dishes with a high temperature. As well with a chopstick as a fork one also can reach somewhat further. For the rest the fork, forks  -because there are numberless of them-  completely take their own way.

Observing a fork, the comparison with it’s much larger brother, which serves to ladle out straw or hay, shit and soil putting it down somewhere else, forces itself upon me.

Metal is self-evident for a fork; a handle of another insulating and decorative material too. Except ladle, one can prick and spear with a fork.

In the Christian culture the introduction of the eating-fork was accompanied with candid moralizing and rhetoric. Are not the human fingers the perfect ‘fork’, a divine present to humans straight from the Very Highest ? Consequently: the metal thing was an insult towards the Almighty.

Some months ago we had Japanese guests for dinner. The spouse of one couple confessed whispering not being able to use fork and knife.

Unexpected a thought crossed my mind one of these days: hashi actually are lengthened

fingers, a practical and meritorious, simple concept. Chopsticks can be made of all kind materials: bamboo, plastic, wood, bone, ivory, possibly from metal. The latter is un-practical because of the fast conduction of heat. Hashi are light, easy to clean and to take them with you and bear personal characteristics, such as color, length, thickness, form, material, way of workmanship and decoration. One can almost eat anything with them: rice, noodles, sushi, small balls, but also for instance roll nori [seaweed] around rice. Condition however is  that food like meat and raw fish have to be cut on beforehand.

The [Dutch] word ‘eetstokje’ [eating stick] ignores two other functions, namely the much longer and extremely practical cooking-sticks. Wood and bamboo almost don’t conduct heat. The third function is a [n excellent and perilous] weapon.

Some insight into etiquette can be acquired quickly.

Ohashi lay parallel at the edge of the eating table, directly at the front, the thinner part resting on a small support. One takes food with the thinner part and brings this to one’s mouth. If one takes food from a joint dish, one takes food with the other, thicker end, which never touches a mouth. Some Japanese consider this not the correct etiquette and prepare separate ohashi on a joint dish.

Never ever: put chop sticks vertical in a bowl with rice ! The reason is a simple explanation. Such a form resembles incense sticks used at one’s funeral.

 The ‘raison d’etre’ for ohashi is undisputed for me and my admiration for this brilliant, centuries old invention rises more and more.

 Kochi, 12 July  2007