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Onigiri (おにぎり): Japanese Rice Ball

Onigiri (おにぎり)
Onigiri (おにぎり) is a a super common, and popular food that is eaten everywhere in Japan.

It is simply a ball of rice that is molded into a triangle or sphere, and stuffed with various fillings.

There are infinite types of onigiri, but the most basic type actually has no filling. It is just rice seasoned with some salt.

Another name for onigiri is “omusubi” (おむすび).

Read on for more interesting info about Onigiri:


different types of onigiri

The main ingredients of Onigiri are:

  • Rice

The only required ingredient for onigiri is rice!

Some typical fillings / toppings used are tuna, salmon, umeboshi (i.e. pickled plum), kombu (i.e. seaweed), okaka (i.e. soy sauce bonito flakes), mentaiko / tarako (i.e. cod roe).

There are really no rules of what you use as onigiri filling, so many shops will come up with their own creative fillings. The only limit is your imagination! 🤓

Often, onigiri is also wrapped in nori (i.e. dried seaweed).


7 eleven japan onigiri
Onigiri display at convenience store

Onigiri is eaten everywhere in Japan.

It is one of the most popular/common foods in the entire country. You can buy onigiri at any convenience store or supermarket.

It is also commonly made at home and taken to school/work for lunch or as a snack.

Many regions have their own special variations or ingredients that they use to make onigiri.

For example, Okinawa is famous for its “pork and egg onigiri” (ポークたまごおにぎり), which is shaped more like an onigirazu (another onigiri variation).

History / Origin of Onigiri

old school onigiri party
Old school onigiri party

Onigiri is one of the oldest foods in all of Japan.

In fact, a fossilized rice ball was found in Ishikawa Prefecture that dates back nearly 2000 years (mid to late Yayoi period)!1

Since then, there is has been plenty of recorded history regarding onigiri or rice balls being eaten in Japan.

Around 1000 years ago in 1221 AD, the first evidence of umeboshi (i.e. pickled plum) onigiri in history books as these rice balls were given to samurai during the Jokyu war. The samurai are thought to be responsible for spreading its popularity throughout the country.

Most of the ancient onigiri are thought to have been made with glutionus rice. It wasn’t until around 1300 AD when non-glutinous rice was used.

During the Edo period (1603-1868), onigiri became a common lunchbox food (i.e. bento). During this time, nori (i.e. dried seaweed) wrapped onigiri was also invented.

Modern Day

onigiri packaging 7 eleven
Revolutionary onigiri packaging from 7-Eleven

In 1957, tenmusu (天むす), or onigiri with tempura shrimp filling, was invented by a tempura shop in Tsu City (Mie Prefecture)

In 1978, 7-Eleven Japan invented an onigiri packaging method called “Paricco Film” (パリッコフィルム) that kept the dried seaweed (i.e. nori) separate from the rice until it was unwrapped. This allowed the seaweed to stay dry and crispy instead of becoming soggy.

This packaging revolutionized the onigiri industry, and allowed it to become a staple product of convenience stores and supermarkets across the country.

How to make Onigiri

Onigiri is straight forward to make. Simply cook some rice, and shape it into a ball. You’re done!

Of course, usually people will also add some sort of filling. You can put whatever you want inside. Some popular fillings in Japan include tuna, salmon, umeboshi (i.e. pickled plum), okaka (soy sauce bonito flakes), and various types of fish roe (i.e. tarako, mentaiko, etc.).

The hardest part about making onigiri is actually trying to shape it into a nice triangle. For detailed instructions, check out my Tuna Mayo Recipe below:

More Onigiri Recipes

Here are some more onigiri ideas from around the interwebz:

Interesting Onigiri Facts and FAQ

  • There are two “rice ball” days in Japan:
    • January 17th is Omusubi Day (おむすびの日), and was created as a remembrance of the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 when rice balls were given as rations to those who became stranded because of the destruction.
    • June 18th is Onigiri Day (おにぎりの日) , and was created to celebrate the discovery of the first onigiri found in Nakanoto Town (Ishikawa Prefecture).
  • There is an official Onigiri Society in Japan, that was founded in 2014


Have you ever tried onigiri before? What did you think of it?

Leave your thoughts and comments below!

Chef Goku

Chef Goku

Chef Goku is the founder and sole operator of The Chef Dojo. He loves Japanese food, and has lived in and out of Japan for many years. He started this blog in 2018 to share everything he learns about Japanese food and cooking. He is also a self-certified Japanese knife nerd. Contact Chef Goku

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