How Blade Runner Teaches Bad Table Manners

How Blade Runner Teaches Bad Table Manners

It’s something I’ve noticed. I’ve noticed it in the US, and I’ve noticed it among Westerners who visit Japan. After breaking apart chopsticks, they begin rubbing them together.

There might be reasons why Westerners do this with chopsticks: maybe they are worried about splinters or maybe it’s something else. Maybe it’s Blade Runner‘s fault.

Early in the film, Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard sits down at the White Dragon noodle bar and orders. Before Deckard is whisked away by Edward James Olmos’ character, he has an exchange with the bar’s Sushi Master, who speaks to him in Japanese. While waiting for his food, Deckard takes his chopsticks, breaks them apart, and begins rubbing them together.

It might not be Blade Runner‘s most iconic scene, but it could be one the film’s most impressionable. Deckard seems comfortable ordering at a Japanese restaurant, so he must know something, right?

Blade Runner has become a cultural mainstay, and if you are vaguely interested in Japan, you’ve probably seen it. This scene in particular has influenced many Westerners who have either visited Japan or dined at Japanese restaurants and who think “the correct” way to use chopsticks in Japan is to break them apart and then rub them together. It isn’t.

Look around at any restaurant in Japan, and you’ll very rarely see people rubbing chopsticks together. The only time I’ve ever seen Japanese people rubbing chopsticks was once while camping with my son’s Boy Scout troop: we made chopsticks from pieces of bamboo and used sandpaper — not chopsticks — to smooth them out.

When Japanese people use disposable chopsticks (“waribashi” or “割り箸”), they simply break them in half and then start eating. Not only is rubbing them together considered somewhat gauche, it is also completely unnecessary most of the time. Even the cheapest disposable chopsticks have been processed and are made to be split apart. If you break them correctly, you should be fine.

That doesn’t mean you cannot get splinters from them and sometimes you’ll see people rub them together a little, especially if a small child is going to use them. According to good Japanese table manners, your chopsticks should not touch the inside of your mouth, such as your tongue or lips. This is obviously difficult for small children, but should be manageable for well-mannered adults.

And as fussy of Japanese table manners can get, there are far worse things you can do with chopsticks, such as breaking them apart with your teeth. Sticking chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice, which echoes a funeral ritual, is even more of a faux pas.

So, if you do rub chopsticks together, it’s best to do somewhat discretely and to do so in order to remove splinters and not as some pre-meal ritual in which you whittle two sticks together into silky smooth utensils. Unless you are in some sort of super formal setting with uptight people, Japanese will probably overlook your Rick Deckard style chopstick rubbing. Now if you are a replicant, then that might be another issue altogether…

Culture Smash is a regular dose of things topical, interesting and sometimes even awesome — game related and beyond.


  • I disagree, Bashcraft. I actually learnt to do this in Japan and have never been told not to do so (by mates, wife and the in laws). I only do it with disposable chopsticks and that’s what i’ve observed of others too. I was based in Tokyo, perhaps it’s a regional thing?

    Never made the connection with Blade Runner until you pointed it out.

  • how about breaking chopsticks in half after you finish eating with them? Disposable ones ofcourse….

    Is that rude or what?

  • I believe that it’s also rude because rubbing them together implies that they’re using poor quality disposable chopsticks. It’s like someone coming to someone’s house over here & saying that the plate they’ve served the food on is bad.

  • They were probably too polite to ask you not to do it Disco_box. They may have also thought that it was a gaijin thing and not to be messed with. I’m Japanese, and grew up in Japan, and I have never ever seen any Japanese rub chop sticks together. I consider it a gaijin thing and if my friends do it at a restaurant etc, I won’t bother them and tell them not to do it. That would be impolite.

    • Agreed – you can get away with a fair few faux pas in Japan if you’re a foreigner. Small stuff like rubbing chopsticks together would probably just be seen as a “western” thing. Hell, I played pretend drums on a table at a bar with chopsticks (i was drunk), and the only person to say anything was my girlfriend, who pointed out it was rude.

    • I’ve only done it with disposable. Never with the real thing. That’s just stupid.

      Disposable ones don’t always break perfectly and you do get splinters sticking out of them. I do it as it makes sense, not as a cultural “look at me, fitting in”. I stand by my position.

      If it was such an issue, why wouldn’t it list as a chopstick bad manner?

      I don’t want to be a Bashcraft basher. I respect his work a lot. I just find it strange, an article relying on his personal experience as if it’s Japanese gospel.

    • On the other hand, I’ve seen my Japanese friends do it plenty of times. Never in a restaurant but all the freakin’ time when it’s take-away sushi with crappy chopsticks.

  • Only a Bashcraft could write an article as pointless as this. Blade Runner to Japanese Table Manners. And the award for most tenuous videogame connection goes to…

  • I consider it a Chinese thing. I am Chinese I grew up in China and I learnt it from my Chinese friends. Also never assume you can learn anything about Japan in Japanese restaurants in Australia. Most of them are ran by the Chinese.

  • Having lived in China, you HAD to rub disposable chopsticks like that to get all the splinters off or they’d end up in your guns or dropping in your food. Everyone did it…

    • “or they’d end up in your guns…”

      I don’t know what kind of restaurant you were eating in, but I want to go there….

  • It comes from overseas restaurants, not Blade Runner. You can find cheap mass-produced chopsticks that splinter apart roughly 50% of the time in most countries other than Japan. The Japan connection comes from the fact that they’re regularly distributed in Chinese and Korean owned Japanese restaurants and moreso from the ironicly iconic wrapping stating “otemoto” (originally an olderJapanese formal term for chopsticks). Technically, the type that need to be “tidied up” are Chinese according to shape/size; the plump, slightly rougher wooden tips are appropriate for grasping slippery, boneless pieces of street food. Heck, I’m questioning where you’re even going to be getting disposibles. Sitting on the kerb outside the 7/11 in Roppongi?

    What horrifies me is how the author has somehow twisted the front page of Kotaku into his personal expat blog (groan), now complete with the usual tourist-bashing, elitist hate spewing.

  • My wife taught me to do this. She’s chinese malaysian. They all do it with the disposables.

    When I saw Deckard doing it I thought “wow, someone’s really done their research here”.

    • Haha… I was about to post almost exactly the same thing, right down to the Chinese-Malaysian wife.

      It’s just something you need to do if you get crappy disposable chopsticks from a takeaway shop.

  • taught most Westerners? never heard/seen this furfy. Lived in China, Singapore and Malaysia and not once run into this.

  • I cant believe you would publish a link so tenuous as to be basically rubbish. There is no causality here, Deckard did it in the movie, that’s it, there is absolutlely no evidence that it has now caused westerners to adopt the practice. For all we know it could have been what Ridley Scott does with disposable chopsticks and there fore its in the movie.

    And a final note, this has nothing to do with games or popular culture for that matter, you should spend your time proof reading your other articles.

  • i’m ex expat westerner and have lived across asia for many years, yawn i know, not, but whatever….and they do it someplaces and don’t do it others, but i’ve always done it after seeing blade runner first time round. Oh and after some Taiwanese locals showed me to do it because you only ever do it with cheap nasty chopsticks given away with street food/ take away, because they always have splinters. Made from trees cut down in Indonesia. But hey, who knows who is right. Or not.

  • Oh, forgot…my point was who cares….so much snark so little time and all that…but real question is how do i find out if i made the cut on the little big planet karting beta? is it tuesday in america and since higgs boson what time will it be here…there’s really so little time…. or is there?

  • I have never done this. I just snap and eat, splinter free. My only ritual is to run my thumbnail along both sides of the join in order to weaken it a little for a cleaner snap.

  • hmmm in the articles defence I’m totally guilty of adopting this habit because of seeing Blade Runner, sure it was practical to deal with splinters on the crappy take away chopsticks but mostly cause I thought it was cool.

  • I find rubbing the chopsticks together isn’t nearly as effective as using one a bit like a knife sharpener for the other for getting splinters out (at home I use good quality chopsticks, so there’s no need for this). Rubbing splinters against your hands seems to be a terrible idea.

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