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Posted on May 20, 2008 | 42 comments

“My Hashi” personal travel chopsticks

“My Hashi” personal travel chopsticks

My Hashi Urara chopsticks and cloth bag

A couple of years ago, my friend Camille sent me an e-mail with a Chinese-language slideshow describing the detrimental effect that disposable chopsticks were having on the environment in China, and encouraging everyone to carry their own reusable chopsticks.

As background, China produces around 45 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks a year, amounting to about 25 million trees. Japan consumes about 25 billion pairs a year, or 200 sets per person, the majority of which come from China. In April 2006, China imposed a 5% tax on exported chopsticks, increasing the cost of disposable waribashi chopsticks and bringing widespread attention to the issue.

Fast forward a couple of years and there’s now a full-fledged “My Hashi” movement across Asia, spawning entire lines of travel chopsticks and cases designed to be tucked into a purse or briefcase and taken to restaurants and work. And what would a Japanese trend be without some wacky invention of dubious use? Check out the My Hashi chopstick bra, which looks like the least comfortable bra EVER. (Read on for the full post.)


Urara dragonfly blue chopsticks and caseBento packers have probably already run across full-size reusable chopsticks in hard cases like these cheap ones from Ichiban Kan’s online store, but my interest in the whole “My Hashi” movement was recently piqued at Daiso discount store when I spotted US$1.50 Urara chopsticks in little cloth bags that match Urara’s popular line of bento boxes. The chopsticks are designed to be wrapped in a clean paper napkin, put into the carrying bag, and carried around wherever you go. The little cloth bag keeps them from rattling around like they do in a hard plastic case, and the paper napkin wrapped around the chopsticks keeps the bag clean after you’ve used the chopsticks, before you’ve washed them. Some even come with a little plastic cap that fits over the tips of the chopsticks to keep the cloth case clean, and double as a chopstick rest to keep the chopsticks off of the table when you’re eating. J-List sells a couple of high-quality versions in stripes and sakura cherry blossoms.

I generally pack utensil trio sets in my three-year-old’s lunches that include a fork, spoon and miniature chopsticks in a flat case. These don’t rattle around in my bag, but the chopsticks are a little short for adult hands and the case is a little large if all you need is chopsticks. If you’ve got the space for full-sized chopsticks but no fancy case, you can make a makeshift case out of toothbrush travel cases available for about a dollar in stores like Target or Walmart. Have you fashioned a clever, makeshift case for your lunch utensils? Let us know in comments!

The biggest drawback to full-sized regular chopsticks is the space they take up in a small bag. Enter collapsible, full-size chopsticks that unscrew in the middle to fit into short, compact cases. I’ve currently got chopstick lust for this black lacquer-look pair, this modern-looking pair in a clear case, and a stainless steel version with a black, red, or metallic case. There are also folding “FlipSticks” out there, but I’m dubious about how comfortable the handles would be over a full meal.

(Disclaimer: J-List and Amazon links are affiliate links that support Lunch in a Box at no markup over the stores’ normal prices. A list of the Amazon reusable utensils in this post and travel forks is at the utensil section of my Amazon store.)

FURTHER READING ON LUNCH IN A BOX:

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  1. Since the idea of utensils in the bento is to cut down on disposable, then what are you doing wrapping your used hashi in a napkin? Isn’t that the reason washable plastic cases and oshibori were invented? (… plus washable food picks, food cups, the list goes on) ;)

    I love the plastic cases. I have two forks with cases and one hashi set with case. I also have a bento set where the fork and spoon sit in the lid. If I pack anything else, then I either wash up at work or put the extra utensil inside my container after eating. I find that popping an extra spoon inside my bento bag doesn’t rattle around at all.

  2. I saw that LifeHacker featured one of your entries on Sunday. Cool!

  3. Those collapsable chopsticks are a neat idea! I generally use my pair of 7inch chopsticks that came in their own plastic case with the pastel set I got off ebay for my stepfather (since he can’t use hashi to save his life!). I also have 3 sets of mini sticks (that came with fork & spoon too!) that fit under the lids of my dual tier boxes. Since I have small hands, they’re not too hard for me to use, but I don’t use them often.

    I tend to hold my chopsticks WRONG, I’ve been told. But I try really hard not to be rude with them by crossing them or stabbing my food or leaving them stuck into the bowl. I figure if I can get food to my mouth without dropping it, I can get away with it. LOL

  4. Wow, the FlipSticks look like the joint and hinge are just about exactly where I usually hold chopsticks. I agree, maybe not comfortable for a whole meal.

    I’ve been carrying pairs of plastic drink stirrers to use as mini chopsticks. They work ok, but they’re a tad short and the ones I have are square in cross-section so they’re not that comfortable to hold. I usually bring a tiny plastic fork (the party pick kind) and use that where possible instead. I also have a bunch of full-size clear plastic utensils. (And I reuse all those things even though they’re intended to be disposable — the full-size utensils I put in the dishwasher like all my other silverware.)

    When I’ve been packing multiple meals at once, I carry stuff in a flat vinyl zipper bag. Once I put in a full size plastic fork, two full-size spoons, two pairs of drink stirrers, a couple of tiny spoons, a salt straw, and some tiny forks. That was pretty much the max. The case isn’t long enough for a full-size knife or full-size hashi.

    If I’m packing a single lunch, I might put the tiny fork inside the bento box and the drink stirrers on top. I usually wrap my bentos in a bandana pretending to be a furoshiki, and in that case there’s really no need for a separate hashi container. (I usually use a fresh bandana every day. They’re cheap and come in fun colors and patterns, and easy to throw in the wash, so I don’t worry if they get a little grease or something on them.)

    The zipper case came from the Container Store, but they don’t appear to carry this particular size any more (at least not on the website — I haven’t been in a store in two years).

    Also, Biggie, every time I’m on their site, I see these and think of you, because they’re folding utensils that look like bugs.
    http://www.containerstore.com/browse/Product.jhtml?CATID=74067&PRODID=10020963

  5. That is quite the idea. I can’t say that it makes me want to rush out to the shops to get myself a bra that has a compartment for my chopsticks.

    I have a couple sets of chopsticks that have cases that I just throw into my purse when I go out.

  6. My husband works at REI and we use camping utensils for our lunches.

  7. I hadn’t thought of this but it’s true. I go to restaurants sometimes that don’t supply non-disposable chopsticks and it’s a mess and … yeah, I think I may just start carrying my own chopsticks. People already think I’m crazy/weird (I also carry reusable grocery bags even if I’m not planning on shopping because you never know!). Thanks!!!

  8. I’ve been thinking about making myself a matching set of furoshiki and chopsticks wrap, but I just haven’t found the time lately! Since one of the reasons I got into packing bento was to reduce the waste my lunches produce, I think this is a brilliant idea.

  9. I use a roll-type case called to-go-ware that’s bamboo knife, fork, spoon and chopsticks rolled up in a cotton case. Since it ties closed, I can just take the chopsticks or fork and knife, and nothing falls out, and the case goes right in the wash.

    It’s too long to fit in my bento bag, but I usually have it in my purse, so I’m ready for impromptu fast-food suppers, too.

  10. Oh man, I want that bra- it’s the must-have fashion accessory for the summer!

    There’s a great Indian chaat restaurant in Berkeley that only gives out flimsy plastic spoons to eat with, so my husband and I started stashing fork/knife sets in our glovebox just in case we got that chaat craving. The plastic sets from Ichiban-Kan are perfect for that.

    And I have to admit, sometimes I “clean” my chopsticks in my mouth and just stick ‘em back in the case… yeah, I wash them eventually… cootie-central!

  11. My husband and I eat a lot of chinese food and sushi. We have nice sets of chopsticks that we use at home, but I won’t let them out of the house so they don’t get lost.

    For Valentine’s day I bought my husband and myself each a set of these: http://www.tripstixx.com/

    They are gray plastic, and they were originally designed for people who worry about germs on restaurant-provided untensils. I liked them because they had both styles of tips that interchange with the handles. I’ve used these alot, and they really work well – I was worried they would slide apart where they connect while using them, but they stay together just fine. They also break down so they are compact to put in even my tiny pockets!

  12. Great post- we use nice chopsticks at home but the portable case for on the go is a great idea.
    My most often used kitchen utensil is a chopstick- I use it to fluff and level flour, to stir all kinds of mixtures and to dip out liquid ingredients.

  13. @1 from Metanoia: I’m a little irritated with the Urara cloth bag ones, to tell you the truth. The manufacturer says not to put the bags in the washing machine and that the colors will bleed, so I guess the paper napkins are to keep the bag clean after you’ve used the chopsticks. (They were novel and cheap, though, so I picked up a couple to show on the blog.) I eat my own bentos outside, so no washing-up facilities available then aside from wet wipes or an oshibori.

    I’d much rather have some of the collapsible ones with plastic or metal cases that can be easily washed, or the ones with the little plastic caps for the chopstick tips — those make more sense from an environmental perspective.

  14. Thanks for this information, I would never have thought about how bad disposable chopsticks are! I sent the link to all my friends.

    Love your site btw.

  15. @13 from Gabi:

    I use chopsticks to fish my toast out of the toaster, and my husband uses them to turn meat in our non-stick pans. (LOL, I wrote “non-stick pants”, don’t know what I’m thinking of…)

  16. @2 from LaVidaMD: Yes, the trick I posted about freezing individual portions of ground food in a freezer bag got a nice write-up in Lifehacker on Sunday. Welcome to everyone making their way here from Lifehacker!

  17. @3 from Sile: I often wind up using the tiny child’s chopsticks in Bug’s utensil sets if we’re eating on the fly and I haven’t planned for it, but then I feel like a GIANT eating with tiny miniature chopsticks. You know, like an adult riding a kid’s tricycle. ;-)

  18. @4 from Sunflower: Neat idea to use the drink stirrers as chopsticks, and those little bug utensils from The Container Store are ADORABLE!! Thanks for the link!

  19. @5 from Wendy: Can you just imagine reaching into your shirt at mealtime to fish out your chopsticks? Pretty funny. Anyway, the silly bra probably worked really well to get free publicity for the lingerie company — YouTube videos, news articles, etc. Maybe people won’t buy the My Hashi bra, but there’s a greater awareness of the lingerie company’s brand as a result.

  20. @8 from Yvo: Well, I think you’re in good company carrying your own reusable bags and utensils nowadays as that sort of thing is becoming more mainstream.

  21. @10 from cordeliasbs: I like that the utensils are made of bamboo (grows like a weed, indestructible) and that each utensil has its own slot in the cloth roll that you posted. Very nice!

  22. @11 from KittyPants: Mmm, Indian chaat… Now I have a craving! (Where can I get a lovely, fresh masala dosa without driving across town? Must check…) I like your idea of stashing your utensils in the car’s glove compartment for food on the go; maybe I’ll throw some into the earthquake bag in the trunk of our car.

  23. @12 from Shana: I love the idea of those collapsible chopsticks with two kinds of tips (Chinese banquet and Japanese sushi) — very versatile! Thanks for the link.

  24. @16 from KittyPants: Well, sticky pants don’t sound all that pleasant! ;-)

  25. There’s an outfit from Eugene, OR that makes useful items from recycled chopsticks. Check out these folding baskets

    http://www.chopstickart.com/

    We have a medium one and have given several as hostess gifts. The fruit seems to last longer because air circulates around it. It’s easy to clean and so ingeniously designed.

    Enjoy!

  26. I found these collapsible chopsticks on Think Geek:

    http://www.thinkgeek.com/homeoffice/kitchen/8ccd/

    However, I am a little averse to paying basically $30 for a pair of chopsticks. Still, I have a friend who uses them regularly and he says they’re the greatest.

  27. Have you seen these? My husband loves them. He really wanted a Naruto kids set though, but they were just too small for him.
    Thanks for the bra video, I really needed the laugh.

  28. The technical chopsticks mentioned by Jeff (comment no. 30) are fabulous. True, at around $30 they are expensive, but we’ve used them for years, and cost per use is now just about zilch. They’re really portable — I carry a pair with me all the time.

  29. Some restaurants have a drawer for storing regular customers their own personal chopsticks,
    I think it’ll be a good idea to do, makes the customers feel special, and it’s environmentally friendly too!

  30. I just ordered a couple of bento boxes from Sugar Charms that come with chopsticks in the top compartment so I’m thrilled about that! I’ve also managed to find metal chopsticks at the local Korean grocery store that is a set with a spoon for about $3.00 which isn’t bad considering it seems like everything that I can find here in Chicago is at least twice as much as it is in the Bay Area :(.

    BTW, Ichibankan.com has the egg molds and the Clickety Click 2-tiered bentos in right now. I just ordered some but I think they’ll both go fast!

  31. i totally agree with using reusable utensils when eating out – i think the to-goware utensils are the coolest http://www.to-goware.com/. but aren’t chopsticks made from bamboo? which is suppose to be quick growing and easily renewable? or is the problem that too many people use them so they are used faster than it can be reused?
    i passed a link to this on to my dad’s japanese wife who loves to buy disposable things. i hope it will help.

  32. @36 from Melissa: Most disposable chopsticks are not bamboo, they’re various tree woods, which is the problem. Thanks for the link to the To-Go-Ware, those look nice!

  33. I think it’s time to get myself some myhashi… though I’m not sure about the bra. Thanks for the inspiration.

  34. @29 from Kelly Powers: Those baskets made from recycled disposable chopsticks look surprisingly nice — I guess they stained the chopsticks as they look quite dark. Thanks for the link!

  35. Uh, oops? The linked-to chopsticks are desirable and awesome indeed, but I’ve pretty much been re-using plain disposable chopsticks over and over again, and put them in a long, cylindric plastic container for toothbrushes the times potential breakage was an issue. If the chopsticks have gotten discolored, a bit rough due to usage I’ve merely just lightly sandpapered them with a fine-gritted sandpaper, and slightly polished them. I’ve been contemplating experimenting with foodgrade flaxseed oil on them too.

    My re-used disposable chopsticks (I have a few proper re-usable ones too) look fine so far (in spite of being handwashed tons of times, and sandpapered a few times), and when the chopsticks no longer are fit to use as chopsticks, I have plenty of practical and a few artistic uses for the wood.

    This sounds sort of weird, never really thought more objectively about what I do with them. Makes me sorta sound like some kind of cheapo and a bum… But it’s never been due to financial reasons, nor has it ever been a bother. It made more sense to put them properly to use rather than throwing them away after using them once or twice.

  36. @40 from Rrr: Wow, you’re hard core about your disposable chopsticks! Admirable.

  37. I should probably get a pair of those myself… All things considered, it would save trees, which I support. I agree about those last folding chopsticks, though; they don’t look very comfortable.

  38. I have little forks that I bought at Daiso that fits with my box (yeah, I have a yellow, a blue and a red to fit with each box… ) Those work just fine.

    I also have lacquered chopsticks and chopsticks plastic cases (again, fitting with my boxes I’m OCD!!!) Never had an issue with rattling.

    I do get to work and put my lunch away, it’s not like I walk around with it a lot.

    Will~

  39. While the idea of your own chopstick with a proper bag sounds really cool and environmentally sound, that hashi bra is just too hilarious.

    “Take out your chopsticks which have been tucked away in various parts of your brassiere..” That cracked me up right there. Fondling myself just to retrieve my hashi? Hahahahaah! I think also the combination of a rice bowl and miso soup bowl is just…ah, let’s just say if I was a man I would be torn right now between wanting to laugh and wanting to you know what.

    Pretty safe to say I’m not gonna wear that bra when I have power meetings, and have my rice bowl and miso soup bursting to get out of my chest. Hahaha!

  40. I have those black laquer looking chopsticks. I got them at a ryokan in Japan and few years ago, in Hakone. They’re so useful, but I have to wash the whole case after I use them, and the latch for the case is not very strong, so I keep a tiny piece of tape over it to keep it from coming open in my bag. They’re full size and all, but sometimes when I’m eating difficult things like really sticky rice, I’m afraid my fingers are putting too much stress on them, because they feel like they’re bending. Also, the metal attachment-screw things like to unscrew from the black part instead of the brown part when I take them apart, and I don’t notice until I’m putting them back in the case and I realize they wont fit. All in all, though, they’re nice chopsticks. They don’t rattle around because they fit perfectly in the case, there’s even pictures on the bottom (like with remotes and things, to tell you which direction to put the batteries) so you can always get them in correctly. I recommend them, as they’re not short and aggravating like the mini bento-sized chopsticks I have so many of but rarely use, but they’re compact at the same time.