Although it is often assumed by outsiders that the three neighboring countries – China, Korea and Japan – share a common culture of some sort, their cultures are clearly different upon close observation. One such example comes from the chopstick. Unforgettable when mentioning Asian culinary culture, the chopstick seems like a simple tool for a simple job, being ‘just two sticks put together’. However, the differences between the chopsticks are very deliberate and practical, as per the excerpt from a conversation with the informant shown below.
The informant is my roommate’s mother. She is a naturalized American citizen of Chinese descent. Having lived her early life in Guangzhou, China, and having married a Korean-American, she is familiar with both Mainland Chinese and Korean culture. While eating a Korean-style dinner together, she taught me the differences between the chopsticks of the three countries of the Far East:
“We [Chinese] use longer chopsticks because we share our dishes across large tables – longer chopsticks give us ‘more range’ [laughs]. In Korea, a lot of people use flat, metal chopsticks because they are very durable and easy to grab tricky things like beans. Japan uses shorter chopsticks than either country. Since Japanese people traditionally ate a lot of fish and mixed grain rice, there was a need for a pair of short, pointy chopsticks for taking the bones out of fish and scooping grains out of the bowl.”
The informant’s statement on the uniqueness of types of chopsticks used in the three neighboring countries show that despite the rapid technological development, some traditions stay in practice due to their continued practicality. Although all three types of chopsticks are shaped in unique ways to serve completely different functions, they share a commonality in that they have evolved to best suit the traditional and current cuisines of their respective countries.