One simple question from the customer made me wonder and provided an opportunity to write this post.
It was when they were browsing a set of chopsticks and then asked me,
"Why these 2 chopsticks of the set are different length?".
I felt hit by this and was shocked that I had been handling these items without introducing the culture unique to Japan until then.
My answer was "the long one is for man and the short one for woman, because man and woman usually have different size of hand. Also in Japan each one has their own chopsticks and table wares at home. We don't share them even in family."
They were quite impressed by that. I didn't realise that it wasn't the universal culture until then.
I thought this is very interesting topic to share here.
"Zokujin-ki" is an archaeological term to describe personal wares in Japanese. Earthenwares with inked nicknames were found from "Heijo-kyo" (current Nara prefecture)" site, which shows such customs already started in the 8 century.
Originally the end of chopsticks has been considered as for humans while the top part for deity. Japanese, therefore, believed deity resides in chopsticks. Also the Chinese character 竹(bamboo) which is a radical/component of 箸(chopsticks) has the meaning of serving as a glue between deity and human/stuff and plays the role of bridging the two.
Since ancient times in Japan it has been believed that our spirit lived in the chopsticks that put our mouth on. It also applies to other tablewares like bowls since it is normal for us to lift our tablewares while we eat and touch our lips on bowl when drink soup. So tableware was considered to be equivalent to a container of spirit and we have been treating them with great care as alter ego.
At the same time this custom has an hygiene function too to prevent infection, which seems reasonable now that we experienced the pandemic.
Why Zokujin-ki has been common in Japan until now?
This custom originating from the spiritual belief has been continued until now. Why?
There are several reasons for that but the major reasons seem to be considering;
- the difference of how much they eat depending on age and gender
- the difference of how often they need to be replaced
Thus each family member usually has their own chopsticks, bowl and sometimes even other dishes on Japanese dining tables matching similar tastes and styles to suit their age and life stage.
These are the very first personal wares to celebrate 100 days after a new baby's birth.
The things that I have been taken it for granted was actually not. Learning about these origin and history, I was reminded that this customs might be related to rich nature in Japan, which brings various of blessings from the mountains and the ocean from season to season. In the rich but sometimes harsh natural environment, Japanese have respected nature and fostered the sense of gratitude for our bounty, and then that becomes a foundation of our unique food culture.
Having a personal ware may be a gesture toward the value of each meal including a thoughtful consideration to a person who serves meal.
It can result in taking good care of things enjoying ageing process with a special attachment to your personal tablewares as well as other belongings.
Thinking of the customs our ancestors have cherished, I sensed appreciation growing in my mind for each little thing in my casual everyday life.
What is a unique food culture and historical background in your country? Please do share it with us.
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