How to eat with chopsticks?
It's maybe the first question for traveller when he/she get's to the Japan. At the first glance, it seems totally impossible to learn to use them. It is a bit tricky, I admit that but before you get yourself a fork, remember that almost half of the people in the world uses them! Even children uses them. So it cannot be so hard. It just need a little practise.
Chopsticks are used in the whole eastern Asia, including China, Korea and Japan. There are differences in sticks what have been used in different countries; Chinese people are used to eat with a little longer and more rounded sticks, when koreans are using metallic, pretty sharp sticks. Japanese chopsticks are maybe the most comfortable for foreigner, I believe, though I haven't ever had a chance to use Korean sticks.
In Japan chopsticks are called "hashi". When you ask to have yourself a pair of hashi, remember to add a honourable prefix "o" to it. "O-hashi" is more polite form of the word actually.
What comes to the table manners in Japan, I think the most important thing for foreigner is trying to be polite and use common sense. Also remember that when you are drinking sake for example, you never help yourself. Always wait that person next to you pours sake for you. And as well, people next to you expects you the same.
Only one thing is what I want to warn you; don't stick the chopsticks to the rice dish. It's considered extremely rude and it also tells about death according old Japanese tradition. It's almost as bad as forgetting to take your shoes off when you step to the tatami floor. But that is the whole different subject.
Now, I'm going to try to tell you about eating with hashis.
1. First take the stick nr1. (it doesn't really matter wich one of the chopsticks you choose) Keep it in middle of thumb and index finger. It's just as difficult as looks. But when you practise you should be able to do that.
2. Stage two. This one gets harder. Now take the another stick and try to keep it with tips of your indexfinger and your middle finger. Try to keep it aligned with the other stick.
3. Remember that you always move the upper stick, not the first stick you took. The lower stick remains always on the same position. Try not to overstrain muscles on your fingers. Just take a relaxed hold of the sticks.
So now you are ready to eat! Or then again, maybe not.. I advice you to practise with something. Try to catch marbles with them.. it's challenging enough! After that you can be sure that you don't lose your face when you are on important meeting and drop piece of chicken to your knees.. :)
Let's practise, shall we?
Now studing katakana and hieragana.