The Difference: Nigiri vs Onigiri

In the previous article, I mentioned “Onigiri (おにぎり)” rice balls. Actually, “O (お)” included in the word is a Japanese prefix for making a polite expression. Hence strictly, Onigiri is composed of 2 words, O and Nigiri.

The Meaning of Nigiri or Nigiru

The meaning of Nigiri or Nigiru

The Japanese word, “Nigiri (にぎり)” or “Nigiru (にぎる)” literally means to grasp something. As for the case of O-Nigiri or Nigiri, the word Nigiri means that you pick up some rice and form it into some shape.

The Difference between Nigiri and Onigiri Rice Balls 

From the above, abstractly, Onigiri and Nigiri are the same things, but when Japanese people talk about Onigiri and Nigiri in daily life, the Nigiri means what is completely different from Onigiri.

Actually, the Nigiri familiar to us Japanese in terms of food is the abbreviation of “Nigirizushi (握り寿司)”, or Nigiri Sushi. Then, what is the difference between Nigirizushi and Onigiri?

Nigirizushi (Nigiri Sushi)

Nigiri Sushi

Nigirizushi, or Nigiri Sushi, is a type of Sushi that usually consists of a thin slice of fresh raw fish placed on top of a small oblong brick of vinegared white rice. As a topping, in addition to fresh raw fish, Nigiri Sushi also uses shellfish, prawn, and squid.

The majority of us Japanese, except Sushi enthusiasts, hardly make Nigiri Sushi at home, but usually enjoy it in the Sushi restaurant. One primary reason for this is that making a delicious Nigirizushi requires some skills and techniques.



Unlike Nigiri Sushi, Onigiri is a homemade rice ball and not offered by Sushi restaurants. Onigiri is a quintessential Japanese comfort food basically consisting of white rice that’s shaped like a ball or triangle and wrapped partly or entirely with a dry sheet of Nori seaweed.

Onigiri rice ball and ingredient

Onigiri is usually bigger in size than Nigirizushi. The rice ball is typically lightly salted and is filled with a salty or sour or savory ingredient such as Umeboshi, Shio Kombu, mayonnaise-flavored tuna-paste “Tuna Mayo (ツナマヨ)”, grilled salmon, or soy-sauce-simmered bonito flakes “Okaka (おかか)“.


Hi, I'm Tomo, a Japanese blogger living in Niigata Prefecture, Japan. For the purpose of enriching your life, I would like to introduce things about Japan on this blog, especially unique Japanese products, cooking recipes, cultures, and facts and trivia.

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