[FOUNTAIN]Caution in using wood chopsticksChopsticks are the common tool for dining among people of the Far East: Korea, Japan and China. Including other Asians who also use the utensils, 30 percent of humanity shares this cultural tradition. While the number of people is not as large as those who use their hands for eating, it is similar to the number who use forks.
Chopsticks first appeared about 3,000 years ago in China. In eary times, they were used for rituals, but common people began to use them around 200 B.C. A Chinese history book written by Sima Qian notes that Jiang Liang briefed Li Bang, the founder of the Han Dynasty, on the situation in the country with chopsticks. On the Korean Peninsula, chopsticks made of bronze were used in the Silla Dynasty (57 B.C.-A.D. 935). Many Koreans today use metal chopsticks.
In Japan, chopsticks were introduced in the early eighth century. They differ from Korean ones in typically being made of wood. These chopsticks, called waribasi, are meant to be used only once. The partially attached wooden chopsticks must be split apart before use ― wari means to split. They are not only convenient to use, but also appeal to Japanese sanitary standards, and therefore are beloved by the people.
Waribasi are used not only in humble restaurants. The Chinese restaurant Tohkarin in the deluxe Okura Hotel also presents its customers with waribasi. Jinro Garden, an expensive Korean restaurant in Tokyo, offers waribasi along with a metal spoon.
The Japanese consume 100 million wooden chopsticks a day, 15 times the number used by Koreans. The amount of wood needed to make waribasi per year totals 300,000 cubic meters.
Waribasi makers assert that since they produce chopsticks from wood remnants they should not be blamed for destroying forests. But environmental groups say that waribasi production not only endangers forests but increases trash problems.
In Korea, waribasi were prohibited in restaurants in 1994. Now they are used for funerals and wedding ceremonies or come attached to fast food packages such as noodles. Annual consumption has declined to 2.5 billion pieces last year from 6.5 billion in 1993.
During vacation season, the demand for waribasi increases. But we should be careful in using them. For a moment’s convenience, we could harm the earth.
by Nahm Yoon-ho
The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.