Yesterday I mentioned that, of the two most common ways to say the number 4 in Japanese, “yon” is typically preferred over “shi” because the latter can mean “death”.
The Japanese are superstitious about death in this sense, and there are several pieces of chopstick etiquette related to death/funerals.
Many of the things you mustn’t do with your chopsticks are described by a word preceding 箸. In these cases the word “hashi” changes to being pronounced “bashi”. I am not sure why 🤔
Let’s look at two of the etiquette rules related to death:
upright sticking chopsticks
This means that you must not put your chopsticks into your rice (or other food) so they are held upright like so:
This is only done at a funeral or burial service (as indeed the above picture is from).
Here is the prefix word:
to stab, to thrust (into), to plant (in the ground), to stick upright
There are two other ways I saw of writing the rule:
dead person chopsticks
There is a practice at some Buddhist funeral ceremonies of gathering/passing the cremated remains of the deceased using chopsticks.
gathering up the ashes of the deceased
Understandably, this leads to another forbidden practice when using chopsticks at the dinner table: do not pass food one person to another, chopsticks to chopsticks.
The name for this takes its prefix from the above term. Below I give a translation of the rule rather than the literal meaning.
passing food with chopsticks
An alternative term for this that I have seen is:
transferring (with) chopsticks
Perhaps that one is a little easier to remember.
Another rule is not to lay chopsticks in a cross. They should always be placed neatly next to each other, on a chopstick rest if available.
I read conflicting reasons for this. In some places it said that the cross is a symbol of death, but in others it said that the cross is a symbol of rejection (of the food) and therefore very rude to the host.
I also could not find a neat self-contained term for this rule like the ones I shared above of the prefix+箸 format.
Does anyone know what the phrase for the “don’t cross your chopsticks” rule would be? 🤔
Today’s header is a set of chopsticks I was given when I left Japan. What do you think they have written on them?