Chopsticks have long been a curio to many a western eye. In ancient China, up to 5,000 years ago, sticks or branches broken from trees would be used to retrieve food from fires and thus saw the very beginnings of the development of what became chopsticks in China.
As populations grew and resources became more scarce, people would cut food into ever smaller pieces to save on fuel, as food made in this way could be cooked quickly. Within a century the humble chopsticks had migrated to other Asian countries, such as Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Although, originally, the Japanese would only use chopsticks in certain religious ceremonies, they quickly gained popularity as everyday items.
To the casual observer all chopsticks might just look the same; particularly regarding the fact that many Japanese and Korean restaurants overseas (that may not even employ staff from those countries) often generically use Chinese-style chopsticks.
Chinese chopsticks (kuàizi 筷子) can be made from a variety of materials:bamboo, plastic, wood, bone, metal, or sometimes even jade, ivory or silver. Kuaizi are around 25 cm long, rectangular in shape, with blunt ends.
Japanese chopsticks (hashi 箸 or otemoto おてもと) are slightly shorter than Chinese, they are typically rounded and taper to a point. This may be attributed to the fact that the Japanese diet consists of large amounts of whole bony fish. The pointed ends make it easier to remove small bones from the fish.
Korean chopsticks (jeotgarak 젓가락) are of medium-length with a small, flat rectangular shape, and made of metal. Traditionally they were made of brass or silver. Many Korean metal chopsticks are ornately decorated at the grip. They are virtually always used in tandem with a spoon
When comparing these three main chopsticks many people may find themselves trying to decide which ones are better, but each type of chopsticks has their advantages and flaws. For example Korean chopsticks are much heavier than Chinese or Japanese because they are made of metal only, but because of this they are often believed to be the most hygienically clean. Japanese chopsticks are shorter than Chinese or Korean, and this it makes them more comfortable for picking up small pieces of food, like rice or beans.
Other East Asian countries like Vietnam, Laos or Thailand use chopsticks as well, but generally speaking their chopsticks are very similar to Chinese chopsticks.
Japanese chopsticks [top]
Korean chopsticks [center]
Chinese chopsticks [bottom]
Korean, Chinese, Japanese [left to right]