割り箸

The Japanese word for disposable chopsticks, composed of the verb 割る (waru, "to break, to split") and the noun 箸 (hashi, chopsticks). A pair of waribashi is cut as a single piece of wood, with the two sticks still connected at the rear end; you break them apart just before using them.

Waribashi have become absolutely pervasive in today's Japan - you get them in all but the most high-class restaurants, with every pre-made bento box you buy, at parties and as a guest in a Japanese home. It's an appalling waste of natural resources: as of 1987, Japanese people used up about 56 million pairs every day, equal to about 900 large trees. Only a very small percentage of waribashi are made from recycled wood, practically none of them are in turn recycled, and about a third of the wood comes from tropical rainforests.

The everyday use of waribashi is not at all traditional; before WWII, they were used almost exclusively for ceremonial purposes. Despite this, it would probably be easier to make Japan give up sake than waribashi, because they are an item of cleanliness. When asking Japanese people why they like to use waribashi, the answers make it sound like using reusable chopsticks outside your own home would be akin to borrowing someone's used underwear without being certain whether it has been laundered; no such feelings exist about spoons, which are also commonly used in Japan.

The pure force of habit makes it practically impossible to stop the use of waribashi - many schools and universities are attempting to set a good example by using reusable plastic chopsticks in their cafeterias, and students don't really seem to mind, but it doesn't seem to encourage anyone to decline waribashi anywhere else - not just for reasons of cleanliness but also because it would make you stand out.

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