Chopsticks were developed about 5,000 years ago in China. It is likely that people cooked their food in large pots which held heat for a long time, and hasty eaters then broke twigs off trees to retrieve the food. By 400 B.C., because of a large population and dwindling resources, food was chopped into small pieces so it could be cooked rapidly to conserve fuel.
The pieces of food were small enough that they negated the need for knives at the dinner table, and thus, chopsticks became staple utensils. It is also thought that Confucius, a vegetarian, advised people not to use knives at the table because knives would remind them of the slaughterhouse. Chinese chopsticks, called kuai-zi (quick little fellows), are usually 9 to 10 inches long and rectangular with a blunt end. By A.D. 500, chopstick use had spread from China to present day Vietnam, Korea, and Japan.
In Japan, chopsticks were originally considered precious and were used exclusively for religious ceremonies. The earliest chopsticks used for eating looked like tweezers; they were made from one piece of bamboo that was joined at the top. By the 10th Century, chopsticks were being made into two separate pieces
Called hashi (bridge), they differed in design from Chinese chopsticks in that they were rounded and came to a point; they were also shorter (7 inches long for females and 8 inches long for males) than Chinese chopsticks
The Japanese tended to make their chopsticks from a variety of woods. Starting in the 17th Century, they were the first to lacquer these wooden chopsticks, making them slippery but quite durable. The Japanese were also the first to create disposable wooden chopsticks (called wari-bashi) in 1878.
Traditionally, chopsticks have been made from a variety of materials. Bamboo has been the most popular material because it is inexpensive, readily available, easy to split, resistant to heat, and has no perceptible odor or taste. Cedar, sandalwood, teak, pine, and bone have also been used to make chopsticks for the greater population. The wealthy, however, often had chopsticks made from jade, gold, bronze, brass, agate, coral, ivory, and silver. In fact, during dynastic times it was thought that silver chopsticks would turn black if they came into contact with poisoned food. It is now known that silver had no reaction to arsenic or cyanide, but if rotten eggs, onions, or garlic were used, the hydrogen sulfide they released might cause the chopsticks to change color.