Surviving without Chopsticks: Eating with a Disability in Japan


Surviving without Chopsticks: Eating with a Disability in Japan

Experiencing authentic, traditional Japanese cuisine is reason enough to travel all the way to Japan. For those interested in high-dining, Japan has three of the top ten cities with the most Michelin stars in the world (#1 Tokyo, #2 Kyoto, #4 Osaka). For those interested in more budget-friendly options, the culture of eating and drinking with co-workers in the evening has created thousands of izakaya – or Japanese style pubs – across the country. Japan is a foodie’s delight.

However, foodies with disabilities still face many barriers when trying to eat at restaurants in Japan.

Japanese food is typically eaten with chopsticks (called o-hashi in Japanese), but chopsticks can be very difficult – if not impossible – to use by people with disabilities affecting their hands. In fact, many people without disabilities struggle to eat with chopsticks!

With more and more foreign tourists visiting Japan, it is now much more common for restaurants to have a fork or spoon available for those who cannot use chopsticks. However, this is still often not the case. Many restaurants will either not have western utensils at all, or if they do have them, they may be child-sized versions for kids. This is particularly true for sushi restaurants.

We recommend that you carry a set of utensils with you when traveling. You can buy a package of disposable forks/spoons at most 100 yen shops or you can ask the clerk at a convenience store for one after a purchase. However, the best option might be to buy a travel set like the Sistema To Go Collection 4 Piece Cutlery Set which contains a spoon, fork, knife, and… chopsticks. But you won’t need those in Japan (^_^).  The utensils come in a plastic case and the compact size makes it easy to carry.

Drinking straws are typically available, but again, the restaurant may only have straws for children’s drinks and thus unable to reach the bottom of a beer! So, you may want to carry a few straws with you just in case.

If you want to try your hand at chopsticks, but don’t have the dexterity, there are still a few options.

FUN CHOP Chopstick Helper, or alternatively Pro Chops, are options that are very portable. They are a small piece of molded plastic that can turn almost any pair of chopsticks into a pair of tongs by sliding the chopsticks provided by the restaurant into the slots and squeeze to pick up food. However, some users have said that they had trouble at restaurants in Japan since the chopsticks were either too thin or too thick to properly fit into the slots.

Though slightly bigger to carry, there are a number of options for assisted chopsticks that are full chopsticks and don’t rely on the chopsticks provided by the restaurant.  This way you can get used to them before you leave and don’t need to worry about any surprises or incompatibilities.  Items like Compac Holdstix or Edison Training/Helper Chopsticks might better serve your needs.

Carrying these items can make the difference between a great dining experience – be sure to pack them!


Do you have any tips for dining with a disability? Share your secrets with us in the comments below!