Sustainable Tourism in Japan - innovation & inspiration

Revive the Samurai Habit of Carrying Chopsticks

An elderly Japanese gentleman at a dinner party a few years ago leaned over and told me that he was impressed to see me using my own chopsticks. “You know”, he said, “you’re Just like the Samurai“, pointing to my chopsticks set. Ever since that encounter, I pull out my set of #myhashi with more pride and Samurai flair.

There has been a recent lull in the debate over waribashi as no one seems to think much about (over)using them. Really, how bad could using a few sticks of waste wood be, right? Pretty bad actually!

Although Japanese sourced waste wood may have been the source of disposable chopsticks fifty years ago, it is not likely the source of most waribashi now used in Japan. Data shows that beautiful forests are being cut down to supply the timber to meet the demand for more than 200 waribashi used per person in Japan each year.

Many of these deforested areas in Asia are then replanted with palm oil plantations which has been targeted as a leading cause of global warming.

When I look at the usual stock of waribashi on tables, however, I have no desire to put the cheap wood in my mouth as it would simply destroy my enjoyment of the delicious, high-quality food I ordered. In addition to wasteful deforestation, I know most of the cheap wood has been soaked in chemicals, from who knows where, that has picked up germs and dust from who knows what, during processing and shipping. I am surprised more people in hyper-clean Japan don’t seem bothered by this.

It’s actually an easy fix as there are so many great options of travel sticks or MyHashi around these days. My favorite pair I tweeted about below are from outdoor shop Montbell and cost less than 2,000 yen. They take a minute to put together, but they fit nicely into a little case, are really light and so easy to carry around and use.

The soba shop I tweeted about below is a long-time favorite. One day, I had the chance to talk with the manager who commented on my MyHashi, which gave me a chance to casually suggest the shop might start using reusable chopsticks. He said he was thinking about that as the cost of buying the higher quality, wrapped in paper versions he was using was expensive, but he didn’t want to use a cheaper version. When I suggested a nice, high-quality reusable option, his eyes lit up, but then he looked worried again. He said, “but many customers think waribashi is clean and nice to use, so I’m not sure it will work.” A few months later, I was glad to see he chose the reusable option. He told me he keeps a small stock of waribashi handy in case someone requests it, but he was happy to see customers transition easily.

I look forward to more Japanese eateries making the change and starting discussions with customers, but wouldn’t it be great to promote wider acceptance with some sustainability-lifestyle-choice focused PR campaigns in Japan? The AKB crew cooly pulling out their MyHashi could sweep the nation. The more boring, but effective option is government regulation. Major change would happen overnight if a 5 yen charge were mandated for passing out disposable chopsticks in eateries and convenience stores in addition to single-use plastic bags. Actually, we should expect the government to at least ban unhealthy imports of waribashi as a public health concern. Imported cheap disposable chopsticks from China were banned in Taiwan as they were found to have high levels of toxic chemicals. There may be grumbling at first, but customers will soon get used to the new status-quo and take pride in adopting a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

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