Depending on whom you ask, the chopstick is either the most lithe and graceful utensil ever designed, or a hard-to-use stick that became vastly improved when someone got the genius idea to add three smaller chopsticks at the end and call it a fork. Either way, the core design has remained virtually unchanged since the utensil first appeared in China 4,000 years ago.
And that includes a not so insignificant design problem: You need two chopsticks to eat, but these suckers are hard to keep paired, leading to the orphan chopstick rattling around in your kitchen drawer. This problem led designer Oki Sato of Japanese design team Nendo to come up with two sophisticated redesigns that are as elegant as the sushi-plucking instruments themselves.
The first of Sato's solution is called the Rassen. "Chopsticks ordinarily come in pairs," explains Sato. "The Rassen chopsticks are a single unit. They're separated into two for eating, then rejoined into one form when not in use." In Japanese, 'rassen' means 'helix' and the Rassen chopsticks take their design cues from the distinctive shape, allowing two chopsticks to pair by corkscrewing into each other at the ends.
Sato's second new pair of chopsticks takes an entirely different approach to pairing: magnetic polarity. Called the Kamiai chopsticks, each individual chopstick has a slight notch on its thicker end. The tips of the chopstick, on the other hand, have tiny magnets with opposing polarity embedded in them. Not only does this design allow the chopsticks to slightly repel each other, preventing them from sticking together, but when flipped head-to-toe, the Kamiai chopsticks magnetically attach to one another.
Both the Rassen and Kaimai chopsticks will go on sale this year thanks to Nendo's client Hashikura Matsukan, a Japanese chopstick manufacturer. It goes to show there is simply no object that is so timeless or simple that it can't become rejuvenated through design.