Most meals are eaten with chopsticks in Japan, called chopsticks, but simple utensils also carry a deeper meaning.
This ceremony takes place at the Hie Shrine located in Tokyo. It is important for giving used chopsticks a destination. Japanese Shintoists believe that when you eat with chopsticks, there’s a part of the person’s soul that stays there. Because of that, it’s best to be careful where this soul piece goes.
Learn more about the sanctuary and this ceremony here.
The Chopstick Ceremony in Japan
The history of Tokyo’s Hie Shrine (日枝神社) dates back to the Kamakura period (1185-1333), when a shrine to the god Hie-no-kami was built on the grounds of what is now the imperial palace. The building was moved and destroyed several times over the next few years, and the current structure in Akasaka was rebuilt after the fires of World War II in 1958.
But the Hie Shrine is still a major asset in central Tokyo, with various festivals and rites held throughout the year, including the shrine’s unique chopsticks ceremony.
The chopstick ceremony at the Hie Shrine is perhaps the most unique event on the shrine’s calendar. Many Shinto shrines accept ancient items as offerings to the gods, particularly omamori (お守り, lucky charms or amulets), which are purchased at shrines and must be taken back to a shrine after one year for proper disposal.
At Hie Shrine, on one day of the year, they accept used chopsticks that could be thrown in the trash and burn them as offerings in a rite to the gods.
This event is known as “Hashi Kansha Sai” (箸感謝祭), which literally means “Stick Appreciation Festival”. Other shrines sometimes have similar events, often referred to as “chopstick kuyo” (箸供養, literally “chopstick memorial”), but rarely reach the scale of the event held at Hie Shrine!
The Chopstick Ceremony in Japan and People’s Soul
The Shinto tradition of burning offerings is not the only reason for the ceremony. Traditional Japanese beliefs include the idea that once a pair of chopsticks is used, a small piece of the person’s soul stays with them. So if the chopsticks aren’t handled with care, it’s bad news (and maybe some serious bad luck) for the soul to be trapped inside!
Even if chopsticks were two branches plucked from a tree and left in the forest, having these makeshift chopsticks being chewed by a wild animal would be bad for the soul. So instead, there are still some who carefully carry their used chopsticks to the Hie shrine ceremony, to give the chopsticks a clean farewell.
In addition, a proper destination for them means that they are not disposed of in the wrong way, harming the environment.