Disposable wooden chopsticks by Adrien Bruneau

If Japan is such as economic success, it’s all thanks to chopsticks. For how can the overworked salaryman hold a book, make phone calls, type with one hand, calculate or clean his nose during lunch if he had to use a spoon and fork? But all this economic strength does not begin or end with him. There are other players hiding behind the scene in this grand scheme for world economic domination. Let me introduce them.

The Cook: It all begins in the kitchen where food is cut into small bite size pieces that can easily be picked up by two wooden sticks. The salaryman wastes no time in cutting his fish or vegetables for they have all been neatly sliced and arranged artistically in a shallow bowl. And the raisu is particularly sticky so that it clings like white leaches on the wood. If there’s a pressing deadline, he can wolf these up in 20 seconds flat, no time wasted!

The Japanese penchant for soba and ramen can all be traced back to the chopsticks. Nope, it’s not the ease of picking up the noodles since a fork can do the job as well, if not better. It’s the ubiquitous slurp, that heavenly sound that typifies planet Japan from planet Earth. Inside a cheap ramen shop, the gaijin hears a resonance akin to the last dregs of water swooshing from a rusty faucet. And when he looks around, he sees this neatly dressed salaryman in euphoric stupor over a bowl of steaming noodles. Ah, heaven! If that isn’t midday therapy, I don’t know what is. How can you ever slurp noodles with a fork!

The Mother: If it is true that the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world, then nowhere is this more applicable than in Japan. Those powerful finger muscles on the salaryman could not have formed overnight. Chopsticks training begin as soon as the child can feed himself. No wonder why some Japanese are so adept at certain skills such as shiatsu massage, karate, judo, and cleaning their ears on buses and trains. I once saw a contest on TV where people try to pick bricks with chopsticks. Wow! That is unthinkable to the gaijin, who can hardly manage with a slimy sashimi at first. Talking about being born with a silver spoon… er… chopsticks.

The Government: The government has to ensure a steady supply of chopsticks, lest the salaryman is deprived of a major economic asset. And it should be disposable, please. The government can’t afford an outbreak of disease in the salarymen’s ranks due to improperly washed utensils. Never mind those dim-witted, namby-pamby environmentalists who claim that the Japanese squander forests to feed their burgeoning economy. The government says that forest thinning is necessary and good husbandry practice. Just be quiet that those “occasional trees” are felled by the square kilometer on a regular basis. And be more quiet that those forests are actually in Indonesia or Thailand, so that Japan’s forests remain untouched.

The Gaijin: You probably wouldn’t believe that the gaijin is a part of all this. With Japan’s graying population, the economy needs more foreign workers to man factories and industries. Let the gaijin stay in Japan for a month and he’ll be so adept at using chopsticks that he even altogether stops using the spoon and fork at home. With Japan’s high cost of living, the gaijin slowly metamorphoses into the overworked salaryman, who also has to juggle many things at a time. Soon, he holds a book, makes phone calls, types with one hand, calculates or cleans his nose while eating. When in Rome, do as the Japanese do.

Ah, but the revered disposable chopsticks is not only an innocuous yet powerful economic tool, it is also a work of art. Years and years of training are required to make the perfect chopsticks, from choosing the right wood, to splitting at just the right length, to leaving a joint that is neither too strong nor too weak. So when the salaryman splits it in half, he shouldn’t strain himself. And with that sudden snapping sound comes a sense of pride that the salaryman, Japan’s symbol of economic power, is ready to do battle with his cold bento from yesterdayfs leftovers.

But hey, hasn’t Japan been in a recession for the past 10 years? And how come many other countries in the world, such as the U.S. and other European superpowers, have achieved economic strength without any “chopsticks intervention”? And the emerging tiger economies, most of their people use a spoon and fork, if not their bare hands. Don’t you think that chopsticks are not an issue here?

Shut up! You know too much.

Originally published in Philippines Today.

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