8

Why didn't Japan adopt the widespread use of western style utensils during its periods of westernization? For contrast Thailand seems to have done this during its efforts to westernize. Without evaluating the merit of these methods, I find it rather curious that they adopted so many other habits and fashions but then skipped this one. And yes I know that they are used, but not in a widespread everyday fashion.

  • 1
    What do you mean by"western style utensils"? Please elaborate. Providing picture examples would help understand your query better. – Sindhu S Aug 17 '17 at 3:13
  • 3
    Cutlery, mainly spoon, fork and knife. – Lassi Veikkonen Aug 17 '17 at 7:52
  • Spoons and knives ARE (and always were) used "in a widespread everyday fashion" - it's just not that visible because it happens at a different point (during preparation). Or how do you think they cut meat, or put hot rice from one big into many small bowls? The main difference is just forks vs. chopsticks, and there are good reasons to stick to the latter (pun intended) . – Annatar Aug 17 '17 at 10:58
  • 3
    From a point of view of history, one of the assumption in this question is not correct. Spoons, as one of the utensils identified, has a very old history in Japan -- more than two thousand years in fact, i.e. Jomon culture. – J Asia Aug 17 '17 at 16:23
  • I'm aware of the tools used to prepare food. These (at least the ones I've seen in open kitchen Japanese restaurants) are however much larger than a typical 19th century (or modern) western tablespoon or table knife. – Lassi Veikkonen Aug 18 '17 at 13:37
5

Summary:

It is really hard to eat Japanese, Korean, and Chinese food with a fork and spoon

Details:

China, Japan, and Korea serve formal meals "family style" in small pieces. Family style means that the food is served in the middle of the table, and everyone eats together off the same plate. The small pieces will break apart if you pierce them with a fork, and eating them is awkward with a spoon. A chop stick, on the other hand, can easily grab a single small item and bring it to your mouth without making a mess.

For example, look at this sushi plate:

enter image description here

It would be really hard to pick up an individual piece of sushi with a fork or spoon. Chopsticks, however, make it easy to pick up a single piece and eat it.

Essentially, to convert Japan to a forks culture, the whole cuisine would need to change. And if I've learned one thing, it is that people generally don't like to switch foods - they yearn for the food they grow up with.

  • 3
    The three countries also have a strong culture of eating noodle, soy, and rice out of a bowl. While interesting, the claim you lay out (that it would be messy) doesn't hold much water given those or other messy examples. – Denis de Bernardy Aug 17 '17 at 14:12
  • @DenisdeBernardy In North China, which I know better than the others, a meal goes in ~ 3 stages. Stage 1: A variety of small appetizers sorta like Tapas. Stage 2: Main course of meat / noodles /soup / fish/ Stage 3: Rice or Porridge. For stage 1 is where the the conversation and etiquette really form very strongly, it certainly requires nimble chopsticks. For stage 2 a fork would work for meat or noodles, but since you have chopsticks already dirty, why switch? And Stage 3, the desert stage, a spoon is appropriate, but chopsticks work just fine. – axsvl77 Aug 17 '17 at 14:23
  • I think your video of a 4 year old eating noodles is funny but not really to relevant to how adult East Asians structure their eating habits or etiquette. There is much less mess when I, a sloppy foreigner, eat noodles with chopsticks instead of a fork. It really helps to be permitted to lift the bowl all the way up to your lips. – axsvl77 Aug 17 '17 at 14:24
  • 3
    Not disagreeing with the argument, but it glosses over the not insignificant difficulty in preparing all the food in that manner. Westerners can just clean a fish, cook it (or not I guess), then slap it on a plate. Saying "they kept using chopsticks because they kept preparing all their food for consumption using chopsticks" seems like a circular argument. – T.E.D. Aug 17 '17 at 18:08
  • 1
    As someone who can, in general, eat efficiently and cleanly both with chopsticks and spoon/fork/knife, I consider the claim from your summary highly questionable. I don't see what is "awkward" about using a spoon for "small pieces". On top of that, at least in China, the "small pieces" are frequently not that small after all, meaning that you have to take bites from something clenched between chopsticks or separate the edible from the inedible in your mouth and spit out a part - both IMHO much messier and not as easy as with Western-style flatware. – O. R. Mapper Jan 8 at 8:33
5

First of all, the question is based on an incorrect assumption: the Japanese actually widely use Western utensils (fork, spoon, knife). This is generally missed because of the context.

The long answer is that everyday Japanese food consists of food of very different origins, and utensils often follow accordingly. Generally, food of Japanese and Chinese origin generally eaten with chopsticks, spoon, and food from Western origin is eaten with spoon/knife/fork. It means that at home people have both sets and they choose according to the dish.

Keeping chopsticks for Japanese/Chinese food is rather practical. For example, rice is an important part of Japanese kitchen, and cooked Japanese rice is rather sticky, hard to eat with fork. As others also mentioned, food is often cooked in small pieces, so chopstick is just handier. This is the same for noodles, where long, slippery pieces of noodles are much easier to eat with chopsticks. Some dishes with clearly western origin like kara-age and tonkatsu (fried chicken and pork) are also generally eaten with chopsticks, and they are cut into small pieces.

On the other hand, if you try Japanese curry (very popular dish, originally introduced through the Britts), you always got it with spoon. Not the Chinese soup spoon, but a western spoon. Similarly, if you order a pasta dish, you generally get is served with fork and spoon. You may dismiss it, but pasta or curry is a very common food in schools, cafeterias and at home, not only in restaurants. Even the Japanese Navy has its own curry recipes (https://www.saveur.com/article/recipes/japanese-battleship-curry).

2

I do not know about cutlery especially, but it might have a thing to do with Japan's mentality and history. Japan, unlike many european and asian countries, is very careful of the influence of foreign countries and is willing to keep their heritage intact, and are also quite racist (as a general rule). Also, the country remained closed to foreigners, except for some very specific portuguese and dutch traders, for a very long time ; it started to westernize (carefully) quite late, and was barely westernized before WW2. The westernization itself was forced by the US during the 19th century. You should probably watch Bill Wurtz's history of japan, on Youtube, it seems like a joke video but it's actually quite accurate.

Oh, and finally, the way they cut their meals make it so you do not need forks or knives once it is served. This, plus the fact the country remained closed a long time, and their tendancy to be defiant towards foreign tools might be an explanation.

Tl;dr : not really useful to them ; country remained closed for a long time ; they are defiant towards foreign stuff.

  • 6
    Western-style clothing such as suits and ties weren't useful to them either, yet the Japanese adopted those regardless. – Denis de Bernardy Aug 17 '17 at 10:46
  • yes, japan has readily adopted foreign words and technology and other things. food might be something they were less willing to change and obviously chopsticks worked fine for their traditional foods. – Jeff Aug 17 '17 at 13:03
  • 3
    There was a ton of westernization in Japan prior to WWII. They modernized the entire nation along western lines. – axsvl77 Aug 17 '17 at 13:53
  • Please dig up a link to that video and link it in this answer (I'm asking as a big fan of the video, and an upvoter). However, I think most of the modernization was their own initiative. Commodore Perry just showed them why they needed to (in the Americans' endearingly blunt way). Westerners would have been quite content if they'd remained easy pickings, like China did. – T.E.D. Aug 17 '17 at 18:01
  • This answer seems pretty opinion based and the factual part is based on a Youtube video... You, for example, forget that the Japanese actually widely use western utensils (mostly for Western food). – Greg Jan 6 at 15:43

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.