If you’re interested in making your own pair of chopsticks or participating in a variety of other events themed around Japanese Culture, be sure to drop by the Japanese Culture Experience Days Event being held on Nakamachi Street! The event will only be held 3 more times this year (February 18th, March 3rd, & March 10th).
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine your favorite Japanese cuisine, filling up your ideal dinner table dish by dish. Mayhap you begin with a bowl of sticky white rice and various accoutrements: grilled fish, pickled vegetables, and natto for the brave (or the healthy eaters!). Your stomach is a void the likes of which only the incomprehensible vastness of space can compare to (this is your imagination, after all), so you add a bowl of piping hot ramen, a variety of shimmering sashimi, and a basket of cold, fresh soba before rounding out this imaginary feast with a variety of wagashi – Japanese confections.
Your indescribably satisfying meal awaits, but how in the world are you going to eat all that delicious food? I’d be willing to bet that you’ve already answered this question without realizing it. Somewhere, anywhere, is there a pair of chopsticks on your imaginary buffet board?
Chopsticks are ubiquitous throughout Japan and Asia as the utensil of choice come meal time. Maybe you’ve fumbled with them, managed to eat while holding them strangely, or amassed such experience with them that you can now pick every last flake of meat on a dish of grilled hokke without disturbing the bones. Regardless of skill level, if you live in Japan someone’s probably extolled your “deft maneuvering” as an excuse to begin a conversation. But did you ever take a break from stuffing your face to consider how they were made?
I never did until I received a pair of handmade chopsticks as a present a few years ago. The pattern and grip were altogether different from the waribashi (disposable chopsticks) available at many restaurants, and I still use them to this day. How, I wondered, are they made?
Luckily for myself and others, Japanese Culture Experience Days in Matsumoto has just such an experience available for the low price of 1,000 yen! Taniguchi-san, a skilled maker who has done woodworking since before I was even born, was more than happy to instruct me throughout the process.
High-quality, handmade chopsticks can cost between two and three thousand yen, so I knew I had to jump on this bargain opportunity. My final product was decidedly not high-quality, but my chopsticks were handmade. More importantly, they were fun to make and gave me a better appreciation for the craft that goes into a nice pair of chopsticks.
The process begins with one larger piece of wood which is placed in a vice-like wooden device that makes use of some leg power to hold the soon-to-be chopsticks in place.
Next the wood is slowly filed down, with particular emphasis on forming a proper tip with which to grip food. Every once in a while the middle section of the chopstick should be filed as well. The tool used in filing the wood is very similar to a razor but with an extremely thin opening, meaning there is almost zero risk of harm and ensuring children can participate as well.
Once one half of the main piece of wood is sufficiently filed, flip it over and repeat the process. Eventually, you’ll have two ends of wood that look very much like chopsticks! But a single, double-sided chopstick is virtually worthless, so you’ll saw it right down the middle to split the wood into two pieces. A few finishing touches here and there, the application of the lacquer, and voila! Your chopsticks are ready.
Handmade wooden chopsticks, spoons, and other utensils / cutlery are also available for purchase. Taniguchi-san can explain the process quite well, and the staff at Kurassic-kan are always more than happy to assist if need be.