Only in Japan: A map showing where you can buy the top 100 best onigiri! (rice balls)

O-nigiri (お握り or 御握り; おにぎり?), also known as o-musubi (お結び; おむすび?), nigirimeshi (握り飯; にぎりめし?) or rice ball, is a Japanese foodmade from white rice formed into triangular or oval shapes and often wrapped in nori (seaweed). Traditionally, an onigiri is filled with pickled ume(umeboshi), salted salmonkatsuobushikombutarako, or any other salty or sour ingredient as a natural preservative. Because of the popularity of onigiri in Japan, most convenience stores stock their onigiri with various fillings and flavors. There are even specialized shops which only sell onigiri to take out.

Despite common misconceptions, onigiri is not a form of sushi. Onigiri is made with plain rice (sometimes lightly salted), while sushi is made of rice withvinegar, sugar and salt. Onigiri makes rice portable and easy to eat as well as preserving it, while sushi originated as a way of preserving fish.

The history of onigiri’s

In Lady Murasaki‘s 11th-century diary Murasaki Shikibu Nikki, she writes of people eating rice balls.[6][7] At that time, onigiri were called tonjiki and often consumed at outdoor picnic lunches.[8] Other writings, dating back as far as the seventeenth century, state that many samurai stored rice balls wrapped in bamboo sheath as a quick lunchtime meal during war, but the origins of onigiri are much earlier even than Lady Murasaki. Before the use ofchopsticks became widespread, in the Nara period, rice was often rolled into a small ball so that it could be easily picked up. In the Heian period, rice was also made into small rectangular shapes known as tonjiki so that they could be piled onto a plate and easily eaten.

From the Kamakura period to the early Edo period, onigiri was used as a quick meal. This made sense as cooks simply had to think about making enough onigiri and did not have to concern themselves with serving. These onigiri were simply balls of rice flavored with saltNori did not become widely available until the Genroku era in the mid-Edo period, when the farming of nori and fashioning it into sheets became widespread.

It was believed that onigiri could not be mass-produced as the hand-rolling technique was considered too difficult for a machine to replicate. In the 1980s, however, a machine that made triangular onigiri was devised. This was initially met with skepticism because, rather than having the filling traditionally rolled inside, the flavoring was simply put into a hole in the onigiri, and the hole was hidden by nori. Since the onigiri made by this machine came with nori already applied to the rice ball, over time the nori became unpleasantly moist and sticky, clinging to the rice. A packaging improvement allowed the nori to be stored separately from the rice. Before eating, the diner could open the packet of nori and wrap the onigiri. The limitation of the machines that required using a hole for filling the onigiri instead of rolling the filling with the rice actually made new flavors of onigiri easier to produce as this cooking process did not require changes from ingredient to ingredient. Modern mechanically wrapped onigiri are specially folded so that the plastic wrapping is actually folded between the nori and rice to act as a moisture barrier. When the packaging is pulled open at both ends, the nori and rice come into contact.

Onigiri are also found in many convenience stores in Hong Kongmainland ChinaTaiwan and South Korea. In Korean, it is called “jumeok bap” (Hangul: 주먹밥) or “samgak gimbap” (Hangul: 삼각김밥), literally “fist-rice” or “triangle-seaweed-rice,” respectively.

Onigiri shapes
There are different shapes of onigiri. Common shapes include:

An onigiri pilgrimage
If you understand Japanese, check out this onigiri map of Japan. It shows all the different areas in Japan and what special onigiri they sell in this area. So if you are thinking of doing an onigiri pilgramage, then this map will show you all the places to go! For instance in  downtown Tokyo, you should try the onigiri filled with clams although the squid sphere from Ishikawa prefecture is also suposed to be pretty good.

How to make your own onigiri!

This recipe makes 8 onigiri


4 cups uncooked short-grain white rice
4 1/2 cups water
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup bonito shavings (dry fish flakes)
2 sheets nori (dry seaweed), cut into 1/2
-inch strips
2 tablespoons sesame seeds



1. Wash the rice in a mesh strainer until the water runs clear. Combine washed rice and 4 1/2 cups water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low; cover. Simmer rice until the water is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Let rice rest, for 15 minutes to allow the rice to continue to steam and become tender. Allow cooked rice to cool.
2. Combine 1 cup water with the salt in a small bowl. Use this water to dampen hands before handling the rice. Divide the cooked rice into 8 equal portions. Use one portion of rice for each onigiri.
3. Divide one portion of rice in two. Create a dimple in the rice and fill with a heaping teaspoon of bonito flakes. Cover with the remaining portion of rice and press lightly to enclose filling inside rice ball. Gently press the rice to shape into a triangle. Wrap shaped onigiri with a strip of nori. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Repeat to make a total of 8 onigiri.


What is your favourite onigiri? We are dieing to know!

Leave your comments below this posting to let us know what your favourite onigiri is! If you have any pictures of your own creations you want to share here, please email them to and I will put them up on the website!

Categories: Stories about Japan, Where to eat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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