Chopsticks have been used since 1200 BC. The first recorded sets were found in China and made of bronze. They were primarily used to reach into pots of boiling oil or water. By 400 AD, people began using them to eat, and by 500 AD, they were used all across Asia.
One of the contributing factors to their surge in popularity was China’s population boom at the time. Due to the influx of people, there was not enough fuel to cook all of the food in the traditional methods. Because of this, people had to get a little creative. Less fuel meant that it took longer for meals to cook, so to compensate for this, they started to cut food smaller and smaller, allowing it to cook faster. These bite sized pieces were perfect for chopsticks.
The great Chinese philosopher Confucius is often given some credit for the rise in chopsticks because he argued that knives had no place at the dinner table, nor any other sharp objects. Meals were meant to be a time of peace, happiness, and contentment, and sharp objects (such as knives) were representative of war and violence.
The first record of chopsticks in Japan is from the Kojiki, the oldest known text on Japanese history 712 AD, but they probably had been around for several years before then. At this point, Chinese culture had already made it's way over to Japan via Korea, so the presence of chopsticks most likely began years earlier than it’s recorded date.
In the beginning, Japanese chopsticks were made with bamboo and were connected at the top- similar to “training” chopsticks used today. Additionally, when chopsticks were first introduced to Japan, they were used only in ceremonies but eventually made their way into the home and became the everyday utensils used. The first record of separated chopsticks being used in the home didn’t show up until the 10th century AD.
Even though chopsticks are used across Asia, all chopsticks are the same. Each region has their own spin on the classic utensil. In Japan, chopsticks are usually shorter than others and taper to a fine point. Traditionally, they are made of wood or bamboo and come in a variety of sizes. Women and children both have their own sizes, which are smaller than the traditional chopsticks. Additionally, fancy high-end chopsticks were made with jade, ivory, gold, or silver.