Then one day a third-year homeroom teacher - having given me the standard 'Oh, you can use chopsticks!' compliment that most foreigners in Japan have heard a thousand times over - finally explained what I had been doing wrong (in other words, what he had really meant was, 'Oh, you can't use chopsticks properly!').
The basic principle of the chopsticks grip is to keep the lower stick stable and move the upper one, thus creating a pincer-like action, and on this point I was at least partially correct. My mistake, though, was in resting the lower chopstick on my middle finger and gripping the upper one with my index finger and thumb.
Those previously impenetrable grips used by my students suddenly made sense, and not only that, but over the coming days, I noticed that many of them are in the habit of holding their pens and pencils in the same fashion.
Ever since I was a child, I have had a bump on the first joint of my middle finger (in Japanese, this is called a pen-dako / ぺん胼胝) from resting pens and pencils there.
Even with this new grip, however, I still find it hard to pick up those smaller or slipperier food items - beans, individual grains of rice, noodles and so on - so while Mrs M uses slender, laquered chopsticks like this:
Born out of cooperation between industry and academia - Concave structure 'hugs' the food
Enjoy your meal with non-slip chopsticks... Working alongside the laboratories of Tohoku University post-graduate professor Kazuo Hokkirigawa, moulded plastics manufacturing company Union Industries of Nakahara District, Kawasaki City has developed a new kind of chopstick called 'Takétori', which can cope with even the most hard-to-grasp foods. Union Industries' 65-year-old president Masahiko Morikawa says that 'Takétori are perfect for anyone who has trouble using chopsticks.'
The invention was sparked by an email that Professor Hokkirigawa received three years ago, which read, 'We've been looking for chopsticks that make food easier to eat for the residents at our old people's home, but we can't find any. Please can you develop something like this!' Having pondered the various theoretical requirements, Professor Hokkirigawa and his fellow researchers eventually came up with the 'hugging' structure.
In order to increase the area coming into contact with the food, the chopsticks were made with four concave surfaces at their tips, which in combination 'hugged' the food. Because the raised edges of each concave surface of the Takétori 'bite' into the food, bigger particles are easier to pick up.
The cooperative enterprise between Sendai City and Kawasaki City was born in August last year, when Hokkirigawa was searching for the materials to bring this structure to life. During a visit to Union Industries, Hokkirigawa had his first encounter with 'Unipéré', a combination of powdered bamboo and tree resin for which Union had acquired the patent.
Once Hokkirigawa had taken a sample back to his laboritories for testing, it was confirmed that Unipéré is between 30 and 70% more non-slip compared to plastics used for a similar purpose. Not only that, but the added value of its inherent antibacterial properties and environmental friendliness meant that Hokkirigawa's academics could embark on full-scale development of the product in cooperation with industry.
Professor Hokkirigawa says proudly, 'The special characteristic of the Takétori is that when you use them, it isn't the primary surface of the chopstick that supports the food, but its edges. This "hugging" construction is a world-first.'
From 1st May, Takétori will go on sale via the Union Industries' homepage, and at their Hamazoku shop at the Silk Centre in Naka District, Yokohama City. One set of Takétori costs 680 yen, excluding tax. Enquiries to Union Industries on 044-755-1107.
In case you're having trouble visualising the Takétori, seen end-on, rather than being round like a normal pair of chopsticks, they look like this.
The key test of the Takétori, though, will surely be their ability - or otherwise - to cope with natto, those sticky, slimy, slippery fermented soya beans so beloved of Ibaraki-ites...
(For the original article from the Tokyo Newspaper, Wednesday 1st May 2013, see below.)
滑 りにくい箸で楽しく食事をー。川崎市中原区のプラスチック成形加工会社「ユニオン産業」と、摩擦を専門にする東北大大学院の堀切川（ほっきりがわ）一男 （いちお？）教授（五六）の研究室が連携し、つかみにくい形のものも簡単につかめる箸「竹取」を開発した。ユニオン産業の森川真彦社長（六五）は「お箸の 苦手な人たちに使ってほしい」とアピールする。