The secrets of Japanese wooden toothpicks

While visiting New York's Greenwich Village neighborhood this afternoon, I entered a Japanese American pop-up store that sells amazing chocolates and other sweets. The owner offered me an incredible dark chocolate truffle to sample. As expected from a representative of a nation that has perfected food serving ceremonies, the truffle was fished out of the container with the most cleverly designed toothpick that he then handed over to me to taste. The chocolate was undeniably delicious, but what really grabbed my attention was the toothpick. I'm sure this surprised the store's owner.  Rather than doting on the chocolate as most customers do, I doted on the toothpick.  Of particular interest were the grooves on the toothpick (the toothpick is only 2-1/2" long) that I had never seen before.  The owner informed me that they are Japanese made and that they are designed to break away and provide a base for resting the toothpick when it is not in use. 

I bring up this story as an example to underscore the possibility of even the most mundane of objects holding clever design secrets to be discovered.  Design, aesthetic, and engineering have to work in concert to produce a good outcome, an ideal that Japanese craftsmen are notorious for.

After returning home I googled Japanese toothpick and discovered that an entire book was written on the history of the toothpick. The author of 'The Toothpick: Technology and Culture' is Prof Henry Petroski. He was interviewed on NPR a few years ago, and mentioned the developments in wood technology vis-a-vis the toothpick. I believe that you will enjoy listening to his 6 minute interview.  

Prof Petroski's interview: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=15681628

And if you would like to visit the divine chocolate store in NYC, here is their website: www.royceconfectusa.com

 

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Yoav Liberman

About Yoav Liberman

Yoav S. Liberman is a woodworker and a teacher. His pieces have been featured in several woodworking books, most recently in Robin Wood’s CORES Recycled. Yoav teaches woodworking at the Rudolf Steiner School in Manhattan, and also frequently guest teaches in craft schools across the country.  Between 2003 and 2011 Yoav  headed the woodworking program at Harvard University's Eliot House. Yoav’s articles have appeared in American Woodworker and Woodwork Magazine. He frequently contributes woodworking web content to a number of digital publications   Yoav has a degree in architecture and later held two competitive residency programs: at The Worcester Center for Crafts in Massachusetts, and the Windgate Foundation Fellowship at Purchase College, New York. He lives in Chestnut Ridge NY.