Photo/IllutrationLGBTQ chopsticks Katsuya Oshita produced (Shingo Tsuru)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Same-sex couples can’t yet legally marry in Japan, but a chopstick maker is defying the binary notion of gender difference with an update to the country’s traditional gift for newlyweds: LGBTQ chopsticks.

It all started with a simple question from foreign tourists.

"Why are men's chopsticks longer than women's?"

Katsuya Oshita's family company had been making chopsticks for more than a century but he was stumped.

“Meoto-bashi,” a set of two pairs of chopsticks often given as wedding gifts, consist of a long pair for men painted in dark colors and a short pair for women done in red.

Pondering their design ended up expanding Oshita's view of gender and eventually led the 35-year-old heir to Oshita Hiroshi Shoten to create gender-neutral chopsticks.

The company in Japan’s chopstick capital, Obama, Fukui Prefecture, is now producing “LGBTQ chopsticks.”

“Chopsticks are there for people who use them. I want to change them and make them free from the constrained stereotypes and easy to use and choose in the best interests of users,” Oshita said.

Obama makes almost 80 percent of Japan’s lacquered chopsticks. After Barack Obama became U.S. president, the town made headlines for sharing his surname.

Oshita said a conversation he had in autumn 2018 about sexual minorities and the term LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) with Saeka Kuramoto, the 27-year-old head of a Tokyo-based ad company, helped him rethink gender.

If gender isn't binary, the ways pairs of chopsticks are combined should be more diverse, he concluded.

“Men’s chopsticks are long and blackish and women’s are short and reddish. That’s how we make and sell them. But it may offend some people in cultures outside of Japan,” Oshita realized.

These thoughts inspired him to create LGBTQ chopsticks, which the company now sells in sets of five pairs.

Oshita offers two large pairs 23 centimeters long, one blue and one orange. The other two pairs it sells are medium size, 21.5 cm long, available in purple and red. A small pair is also for sale that is 19 cm long and comes in green.

The lacquered utensils bear patterns drawn by traditional methods called “water transfer,” using ripples of paint floating on the water.

Department stores and Oshita’s client’s stores started selling the chopsticks this spring for 1,200 yen ($11) per pair.

Sales, however, have been slow compared to the traditional type of chopsticks for married couples.