The Difference: Nigiri vs. Onigiri

In the previous post, I mentioned Onigiri (おにぎり) rice balls. 

Actually, O (お) included in the name 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 (verb), Nigiri (にぎり) or Nigiru (にぎる), literally means to grasp something. 

In the case of O-Nigiri or Nigiri, the Nigiri means to pick up a handful of rice and compress it into some shape.

Nigiri vs. Onigiri Rice Balls 

From the context above, you can find Onigiri and Nigiri abstractly the same things.

But when Japanese people talk about them in everyday life, the latter stands for a thing different from Onigiri.

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 Nigiri-Zushi and Onigiri?

Nigiri-Zushi (Sushi)

Nigiri Sushi

Nigiri-Zushi is a type of Sushi consisting of a small oblong brick of Sumeshi (酢飯: vinegared white rice) topped with a thin slice of raw fish.

As a topping, Nigiri also commonly uses shellfish, prawns, and squid in addition to fresh raw fish.

Japanese people, except Sushi enthusiasts, rarely make Nigiri-Zushi at home and usually enjoy it in restaurants.

One of the reasons is making a delicious Nigirizushi requires techniques and skills.



Unlike Nigiri-Zushi, Onigiri is a homemade rice ball not offered by Sushi restaurants.

It is quintessential Japanese comfort food made of cooked rice shaped like a sphere or triangle, wrapped partly or entirely with a dry sheet of Nori seaweed.

Onigiri is large-sized compared to Nigirizushi. This rice ball is typically lightly salted and filled with a salty, sour, or savory ingredient.

Examples of the filling include Umeboshi, Shio Kombu, Tuna Mayo (ツナマヨ: mayonnaise-flavored tuna-paste), grilled salmon, and Okaka (おかか) or soy sauce-simmered bonito flakes.

Onigiri rice ball and ingredient


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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