How can you perfect a 4,000-year-old eating utensil?

Japanese design team Nendo gave it a try, and came up with two new chopstick designs.

The first is a helix-shaped chopstick.

These chopsticks can easily intertwine with one another when not in use, to keep them paired.

Another chopstick uses magnets for the same effect.

Each thick end has a small groove in it, and the tips are magnetic.

Because of the magnets' polarity, not only do the tips not stick together when eating, but the chopsticks attach to one another when not in use.

Co.Design

Chopsticks Get A Makeover

Japanese design firm Nendo redesigned chopsticks to solve the utensils' major flaw. It only took 4,000 years.

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.

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20 Comments

  • Ugo Gagné

    truth be told the chopsticks situation is not the design but the waste it creates. The fact is that china and japan use about 100 billion single use chopstick pairs every year.

    Now instead of redesigning the product for cosmetics why not try to figure out a way to have folks use their own pair over and over (like it was done in a pre industrial era, not fifty years ago).

    This is 2014, we dont need filmsy superficial designs. What we do need is ways to reconnect with material, items so we dont feel it's ok to throw it out in the can after a single use, or a single year of use when it could last 20.

  • Guilherme Kunzler Maia

    Design can be used as a tool to fix broken/dysfunctional things OR just to show-off. This is a crystal clear case of how hard some designers NEED to show-off... and thankfully they only succeeded in the show-off part of things and chopsticks can remain safe... for now. By the way the "only took 4000 years" headline was as good as the design solution.

  • The form of the chopsticks are more aesthetically pleasing...but at the cost of its basic functionality.

    The flat component of the Rassen chopsticks are both uncomfortable to use and difficult to hold food with. The grooves on the Kamiai look difficult to wash, making it possibly unhygienic.

  • "It only took 4000 years." was totally unnecessary.

    these chopsticks are aesthetically pleasing and beautiful, but fail in terms of user experience. the helix is in a position where most chopsticks users hold the chopstick, therefore making user experience very uncomfortable for prolonged periods of time. the notches in both pairs of lipsticks trap unnecessary gunk. awfully unhygienic.

    as a person who has been using chopsticks all my life, i will never get these.

  • Richie Lau

    I like the Japanesey noveltique, but a big consideration missing here are the ease in washing in between the cracks, ready to be filled with bacteria. Next in line is the idea of having to corkscrew your chopsticks for hundreds of people. The annoyance leads me to think the designer was showboating for affection. Hugs... but a beautiful fail in my eyes.

  • Matthew Peter Kihm

    maybe the design has stayed the same for 4000 years because there hasn't been anything wrong with it.

  • "these suckers are hard to keep paired, leading to the orphan chopstick rattling around in your kitchen drawer" - this in entirely false problem

  • Seems like more of a chopstick organization scheme than a redesign of the tool itself. I like the chopsticks to be separate so that after washing, they can dry more thoroughly. I store a bunch of old-style bamboo chopsticks in a tall container. Just grab two when needed. Simple and to-the-point. Good design.

  • Annie Ha

    I wonder if the designers have ever had to hand wash chopsticks after eating/cooking sticky rice. Cracks for storage obviously make cleaning very hard.

  • You wouldn't, although in my family, eating family style--which is common in a chinese family, we would sometimes pick food from the plate with the wide end of the chopsticks. But even if you don't do that, when washing and drying chopsticks, it's natural to wash the entire chopstick, not just the end that goes in the mouth.