The other day (all right, Christmas), I received a few nice birthday gifts. This bundle in particular provoked much discussion:
It turned out to be a set of chopsticks in a carrying case (carrying wrap, actually). Every working Wednesday, I lunch at the same restaurant with two guys who don’t use the ubiquitous disposable chopsticks most restaurants make available here. Every week, I mention that – like them – I should get myself a set of my own, and I would be saying that for the rest of my time in Japan – such is my skill at procrastination – if Mike hadn’t presented me with these. A good, traditional Japanese gift.
So traditional, in fact, that I’ll get stares in many eateries from now on (yet another reason – throw it on the pile). Although school kids usually bring chopsticks from home for eating their bento, only the very old or very granola seem to do it in restaurants. This was not always so – it used to be quite normal for everyone to carry their own chopsticks in their purse or coat pocket. Disposability is a relatively recent concept here, but one that caught on big-time. Since many salarymen lunch at the same noodle shop every day, many diners used to have little shelves where regular customers could store their 0-hashi (お箸, chopsticks). I remember a friend of mine doing this at her local spot nearly 15 years ago. After my friend ate, the woman who ran the place would always take the chopsticks and wipe them with a clean, damp cloth before handing them back to the friend, who would put them back in their case, and leave them on the shelf when she left. Now, of course, one would simply reach for the cheap, disposable waribashi in the can on the counter (one did it then, too, but the exceptions were not yet considered eccentric).
At Christmas, we all agreed that it was a fine, practical present. If everyone used them, we’d save more trees. On the other hand, as someone pointed out, most waribashi (disposables) are made of quick-growing, fast-spreading bamboo, which in much of Asia is considered just one step above invasive weed. It’s not as though they’re cutting down ancient oaks. But indigenous forests in Indonesia are being cleared to make way for profitable bamboo to sell to Japan. And in China, (thank you, Wikipedia), 45 billion pairs are thrown away each year, the equivalent of 25 million fully grown trees. That’s a lot of waste, weed or no weed.
Well, no thanks to me anymore. The next step, I guess, is to remember to carry the reusable shopping bags I bought in Canada last summer. I’ve used them about three times.