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Three countries that are similar yet different. Chopsticks of these three countries are also similar yet different. Chopsticks are called “kuaizi” in China. Their thick and long wooden chopsticks are the result of generally greasy food and communal eating style of China. The Japanese, who largely enjoy raw or cooked fish, favor chopsticks with sharp ends called “hashi.” In contrast, Korea’s “jeotgarak” are mostly medium in length and have flat ends, just right for moving a variety of heavy food morsels. Just as the three countries’ chopsticks have developed into different shapes, the ways they have preserved and change chopsticks vary as well.
Ginza, the premier shopping district in Tokyo. Among the numerous high-end shops stands a store that sells only chopsticks. Opened in 1999, this store has stayed put while a great number of businesses came and went on this busy street. The establishment is not that big, but has about 3,500 different kinds of chopsticks.
It isn’t that hard to find such chopstick stores in Japan. There are chopsticks decorated with diamonds and gold are valued at about 90,000 U.S. dollars per pair and the world’s longest chopsticks, according to the Guinness World Records. There are even special chopsticks for people with disabilities.
Led by the Shanghai Chopsticks Promotion Association, the Chinese appear to be focusing on establishing an academic system of studying the tradition of chopsticks and publishing books on chopsticks. The Shanghai Chopstick Promotion Association, founded in 2012, is comprised of esteemed historians, culture experts, and folklore specialists in China.
China has been celebrating Chopstick Day and hosting a chopstick festival for several years. Above all, China has been working on publishing a textbook for chopstick education in order to gain attention of the Chinese public and build theoretical foundation.
Compared to China or Japan, Korea’s research on chopsticks began rather late, but gaining on them at a furious pace. Korea is trying to emphasize the world’s only metal chopsticks. The country has been using metal chopsticks for a long time. The secret lies in Korea’s time-honored metal smelting tradition. The amazing metal smelting technology that has produced the world’s first metal printing types, splendid gold crowns, the massive Bronze Bell of King Seongdeok, and bangjja yugi brassware has resulted in the thriving metal chopstick culture.
And that tradition is being taken into the future by craft and design students of Cheongju University. This university is the only school in Korea where chopstick craft is included in the regular curriculum, It is also the birthplace of a startup chopstick business.
This year’s Chopstick Festival in Cheongju was an opportunity for Korea, China, and Japan to hold a very special discussion. The most crucial agenda at the symposium was the inscription of chopsticks as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. The symposium took the Joint Declaration on Chopstick Culture of 2016 one step further and looked into some concrete ways to inscribe chopsticks as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. A representative from the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Center in the Asia Pacific Region emphasized the need for each community to recognize the special social and cultural implications of chopsticks. In order for chopsticks to be inscribed as a world cultural heritage, each country must rediscover the meaning and value of chopsticks. That’s why we need to look at chopsticks, now too familiar a tool, with a fresh set of eyes.
Chopsticks are still with us even after thousands of years. The power of three-millenium-old meme hidden inside chopsticks. We dream of a new future that a deft handling of chopsticks would bring.
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