Step up to the plate: from baseball bats to chopsticks
February 15th, 2012
01:30 PM ET
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A chopstick making company has whittled down broken baseball bats so sushi can be shoveled with a swing.

Hyozaemon specializes in traditional hand-crafted eating utensils and in 2000 introduced their "kattobashi" chopsticks. The name is a play on words combining the Japanese word for chopsticks, "hashi," with a familiar chant heard at Japanese baseball games.

About 20,000 bats, used and abused by pro and amateur players, turn up at Hyozaemon's workshop each year. So it's a good bet the bats of Godzilla himself, Hideki Matsui, in his pre-Major League Baseball days, will have ended up on a Japanese dining table at some point over the years.

The "kattobashi" are just one of a range of chopsticks produced by Hyozaemon that are painstakingly cut, sanded and decorated by hand.

"It's a dying art," says Kazufumi Yoshida of Hyozaemon. "Most young people are unwilling to work at chopsticks factories because the job is not so exciting. And almost chopsticks companies use machines in their manufacturing processes."

Hyozaemon's oldest craftsman has been working for over 40 years and says that he is still training. He's responsible for many of the 600,000 pairs of chopsticks that the company sells each year.

But that number is dwarfed by the amount of disposable wooden chopsticks Japan as a whole stacks up: around 24 billion pairs annually, second only to China.

The disposable variety was devised in Japan in the early 1980s to make use of scrap wood. But as well as threatening the artisans at Hyozaemon and other chopstick-making companies, throw-away chopsticks have been blamed for their part in deforestation in Asia.

China is by far the largest producer of disposable chopsticks, churning out around 60 billion pairs each year; millions of quick-growing trees like birch, spruce and bamboo are felled in the process. An environmental campaign in 2006 led to a five percent environmental tax on the export of disposable chopsticks from the country, but other Southeast Asian nations, like Indonesia and Vietnam, have stepped up to sate the undiminished appetite for one-use wooden chopsticks.

Driven by concerns for the environment rather than a love of the aesthetic of reusable chopsticks, campaigns against disposables have sprung up in Japan, China and elsewhere. Some restaurants and shops in Japan have added incentives like in-store credit for people using their own chopsticks.

For those at Hyozaemon, "disposable" is a dirty word, as a throw-away society goes against their values of care and quality.

"We think that making chopsticks in the old way is our mission; to keep the traditional craft of chopsticks," said Yoshida.

"At our factory five young men are working (as craftsmen). We hope they hand the craft down to the next generation."

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Filed under: Asian • Feature • Japan • Japan Eats • Japanese


soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. Robert Wright

    Undeniably believe that which you stated. Your favorite reason appeared to be on the web the simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I certainly get annoyed while people think about worries that they plainly do not know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top as well as defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , people could take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

    February 21, 2012 at 11:38 am | Reply
  2. andorifwhat

    JAX
    how does one use an individual chop stick?

    February 16, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Reply
    • Woody

      pointedly

      February 17, 2012 at 7:16 am | Reply
    • jellybean

      i use the stabbing method.

      February 17, 2012 at 8:21 am | Reply
  3. Wastrel

    It reminds me of the old cartoon where an entire log was put on a lathe and pared down to a single toothpick.

    February 16, 2012 at 10:29 am | Reply
  4. JL

    Ball players routinely clean dust off their bats by pulling it between their thighs and groin. So think about that the next time your shoveling in a rainbow roll.

    February 15, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Reply
    • Walker, Austin

      Dude I think you like shoveling in a rainbow roll!

      February 15, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Reply
  5. Dave H.

    Snow Peak makes collapsable chopsticks made from old baseball bats. REI and other outdoors stores carry them. They are not expensive and easy to carry along.

    February 15, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Reply
  6. Sean

    I wonder if its a collectors item. That be awesome if it was signatured from the players who used the bat.

    February 15, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Reply
  7. Sweetenedtea

    When will they finally invent a decent pair of soup-eatin' chopsticks? It takes me well over 6 hours to finish a bowl of Campbell's Hearty Tomato and, frankly, I feel my time could be better spent practicing those martial arts chopstick moves I saw Jackie Chan perform.

    February 15, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Reply
  8. HARRY

    u haven't a clue as to the beauty of a hand made pair of chop sticks. While serving in the forgotten Korean War, I was able to latch on a pair with beautiful pearl and gold inlay which I still have and occasionally use yet today. So, if you don't know wtf your talking about ,,, shet up.

    February 15, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Reply
  9. speaks english

    "a range of chopsticks produced by Hyozaemon that are pain-stakingly cut, sanded and decorated by hand."

    That should be the taking of pains, not the staking of them. There is no hyphen. Journalists.

    February 15, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Reply
    • AndrewM

      But stakingly is not a word.

      February 15, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Reply
      • AndrewM

        oops i see what you mean

        February 15, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Reply
      • Sweetenedtea

        So "Van Helsing dealt with the vampire quite stakingly" isn't proper usage...? :)

        February 15, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Reply
  10. Fiona

    I love it that this handcraft still has a market, but I never believe it when a manufacturer claims a product is made from a specific - limited - material-with-provenience (I.e., bats used by the pros). It's too easy to fake.

    February 15, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Reply
    • adam

      well in the article it does mention that they were used by both pros & armatures ... probably more so the armature bit.

      February 15, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Reply
      • NoTags

        I didn't realize an armature could use a bat.

        February 16, 2012 at 11:29 am | Reply
  11. Sicquer Stickur Sister

    We're going to argue about chopsticks today? Really?

    February 15, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Reply
  12. JIMMY Joe

    Where can you buys these things??? I need them!!!

    February 15, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Reply
    • Fiona

      Google Hyozaemon chopsticks, and an English site will be in the first few results.

      February 15, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Reply
    • Fiona

      Correction...you can't buy off the site, but there is a "Japan shopping service" online.

      February 15, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Reply
  13. Jerry Seinfeld

    Have these people not heard of a fork and spoon? I mean when's the last time you saw someone shoveling a driveway with two logs?? I mean who ARE these people??

    February 15, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Reply
  14. Andrew

    Can I buy these somewhere?... somewhere I can read the website. I could use these when watching Mr. Baseball.

    February 15, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Reply
    • saul

      I USE THEM TO PICK MY NOSE AND GIVE THEM BACK.

      February 15, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Reply
      • bruce

        I USE THEM TO PICK MY EARS

        February 15, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Reply
  15. highcode

    newsflash. using chopsticks requires a bit of training and skill to use well, offering much more dexterity than a fork can. Stick to your caveman era eating skills bruh. Just because it's abilities is beyond your own doesn't make it awkward.

    Disposable plastic forks are terrible for the environment as well. They also make metal chopsticks such as the ones used in Korean cuisine.

    Time to move on, ignorant one

    February 15, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Reply
    • A

      1. Metal chopsticks aren't strictly Korean. I bought mine in Taiwan.
      2. A fork isn't "caveman" era. If anything, chopsticks are more ancient than forks.
      3. Many of my Asian friends prefer a fork to their chopsticks.

      I'm not trying to be anti-chopstick, in fact I use them often, but your argument is just as irrelevant as the one you're trying to rebuke.

      February 15, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Reply
    • Woody

      I wonder if anyone makes titanium chopsticks. I'm sure there are gold ones for the rich & famous ... time to JFGI!

      February 17, 2012 at 7:21 am | Reply
  16. beadlesaz

    oops – meant" "chopsticks for export to China." (The fingers were faster than the brain!)

    February 15, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Reply
  17. beadlesaz

    A factory in Georgia has been retooled to manufacture disposable wooden chopsticks to China. Nice to know that we are getting a tiny portion of our money back!

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/23/georgia-china-2-million-chopsticks_n_872333.html

    February 15, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Reply
  18. Locode

    Newsflash. Using chopsticks is awkward and bad for the environment. We invented forks a long time ago. Time to move on.

    February 15, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Reply
    • Chris R

      Actually, chopsticks are easy to use and incredibly effective for a wide range of tasks – not just eating. It does take a small amount of skill and practice to use them. If you don't have the patience then I'm sure they must feel awkward. I will admit that there are some foods that are better suited to forks but that's why flexibility is important.
      You are correct in that disposable chopsticks are bad for the environment. That's why people shouldn't use those and invest in a decent pair of reusable sticks.

      February 15, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Reply
    • Owl96

      One thing the knife and fork does is to make food preparation easier. For chopsticks, meats need to be cut into small thin bite size pieces that can be picked up easily. Knife and fork eating allow that New York Strip to come on a nice platter in one piece.

      February 15, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Reply
    • jax

      Ignorant and infantile cheap shot comment. when your great/great parents and beyond were using fingers to eat, while in the part of East Asia people were using chopsticks, individual ones, not throw-away. Now, when your cheap lunch you to consume what you use, PLASTIC UTENSILS(throw away). Worse than woods/bamboo. The throw-away chopstick producers, (I don't know about China) have been sensitive to this matter and normally using the woods not otherwise to be useful. Also, bamboo is fast growing plants almost necessary to cut often(well sustainable). So, go back to use fingers to eat your cheap dinner. The case reported is about the scrap baseball bats to utelize. Read well before make a useless comment.

      February 15, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Reply
  19. alternativeword

    Read my response to Irvine's article @ http://alternativeword.wordpress.com/

    E

    February 15, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Reply
    • Tony Baloney

      didn't read you crap-ass article...go advertise somewhere else

      February 15, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Reply
      • @Tony B

        Don't sit on the fence like that. Tell us how you really feel.

        February 15, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Reply

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