How Blade Runner Teaches Bad Japanese Table Manners

How Blade Runner Teaches Bad Japanese 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.

(GIF via Oystermag)

[GIF via Oystermag]

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.

(Image: Musings From Another Star)

[Image: Musings From Another Star]

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 as 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 it somewhat discretely and only to remove splinters, and not as some pre-meal ritual in which you whittle two sticks together into silky smooth utensils. But unless you are in some sort of super formal setting, Japanese people will probably overlook your Rick Deckard style chopstick rubbing.

(GIF via Moicani)

[GIF via Moicani]

This story originally appeared on 9 July 2012.

Top image: The Playlist


  • My wife pulled me up on that once. I don’t rub my sticks at home because they are nice. You give me shitty splintery sticks, I will rub them in your restaurant.

    • Being Chinese, that’s definitely why I clean them/rub them together when getting chopsticks from almost every Japanese/Chinese takeaway, sushi bar, noodle bar and dodgy joint. There’s so many disposable chopsticks that they are they absolute lowest in quality. Just because they are processed and made to split doesn’t mean they are made well.

      Best option is to bring your own chopsticks, which I do when I know I’m going to a takeaway.

  • Ive never done this.

    Because i cant use chopsticks to save my life, id probably have a better a shot at using chopsticks to end my life.

  • Well… someone should tell my japanese friends that they’re being rude because they do this ALL the time.

    • Especially if you’re a middle class white girl on tumblr. They always like to tell minorities what they should be offended over 😉

      • Or my mum. She’s an expert at what is appropriate, and what is not appropriate. I feel like it’s a waste of effort personally. Just be nice. If someone is offended at my ‘rubbing of the chopsticks’ i feel like that is really on them and their small mindedness. I’m not hurting anyone!

    • It’s true. While I was in Japan, I picked this up from Japanese people. And when we ate at a place with disposable chopsticks with an old family friend (who is Japanese) of one of my travelling companions, she complimented us on getting our chopsticks ready like the Japanese do.

      What you don’t do is do it in expensive places where they give you nice chopsticks to eat with. That would be rude, because you’re saying their chopsticks are cheap.

    • Mm, it might vary from place to place or age to age, but last time I was in Japan I was eating out with a Shinjuku local who was nice enough to show me some nice places I wouldn’t have ordinarily found and she sort of winced when I rubbed my chopsticks together. She explained that you’re pretty much saying the quality of the restaurant is poor as they are providing you poor chopsticks, so it’s easy to see why a chef (especially one cooking at a bar in front of you) may be offended by this. It might appear oversensitive to me, coming from a different culture, but I’m a visitor in their country so I just shut up and took note. That was the last time I rubbed my chopsticks together..

      • Couldn’t Deckard then, just perhaps not think too highly of the establishment? I mean it’s set in a scenerio where western and eastern cultures have merged to a point.

  • I swear I’ve read this exact article before…

    Just don’t stick them upright in a bowl of rice. Memories of funeral rites.

    • Yeah never do this. EVER! do this kind of thing japan you get the huge stare and the gaijin remarks. A young ditsy girl did this in a yohinoya restaurant, she learnt her lesson hopefully.

    • Same. I remember being annoyed at Bashcraft for his “I’m the man of Japan. What i say is true” tone.

    • Boo hoo.

      Better not wear a dark suit, memories of funeral rites. Better not give anyone flowers, they have those at funerals. Probably should build giant walls around graveyards, wouldn’t want people to see it and be reminded of funeral rites.

  • Everyone knows the correct thing to do is use them as drum sticks until your wife kicks you under the table………

  • Never done that. However I’m drawing the line at not touching the inside of my mouth they can just deal with it.

  • Great writing there, well researched and references provided for all data. I’m totally convinced that everyone does it because of one scene in a movie that everyone may or may not have watched.

  • I feel like I would get my arse beat if I ever went to japan, I would treat their table manners with the same respect I treat ours. Elbows on the table, knife and fork in the wrong hands and zero fucks given. If the chef wants to be a crybully that’s his problem.

  • Yikes! I do it with break apart chopsticks to scrape back any splinters that might otherwise be un noticed. Is it something i learned from bladerunner as a kid? I couldnt say. But I started doing it around the same time…so subliminal cultual influence? I put it down as the sensible thing to do…friction gloss the wood until the splinters are gone.

  • It’s Harrison bloody Ford, son. He can eat his food however he damn well wants.
    Besides, Blade Runner is set in Los Angeles. Why would you expect someone to abide by the strict culinary guidelines of another country?

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