Nigiri vs Onigiri : What is the difference?

In the previous article, I wrote a little about “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 (にぎり, 握り)

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 thing, but when Japanese talk about Onigiri and Nigiri in daily life, Nigiri has a meaning completely different from Onigiri.

Actually, the Nigiri familiar to us Japanese is the abbreviation for “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 slice of fresh raw fish on top of a small oblong brick of vinegared white rice. Other than fresh raw fish, the topping of Nigiri Sushi includes shellfish, prawn, and squid.

Generally, we Japanese, except Sushi enthusiasts, seldom make Nigiri Sushi at home, but enjoy it in the Sushi restaurant. This is because you need skills to make a delicious Nigirizushi.



Unlike Nigiri Sushi, Onigiri is a homemade rice ball and not served in Sushi restaurants. Onigiri is a Japanese comfort food that basically consists of steamed plain white rice wrapped with a dried sheet of seaweed laver “Nori (海苔)” (

Onigiri rice ball and ingredient

Onigiri is usually big in size, compared to Nigiri Sushi, and formed into triangular or spherical ball shapes. The rice ball is often lightly salted and has a salty or sour or savory ingredient in the center part.

The typical ingredient for Onigiri rice balls includes Umeboshi plums, Shio Kombu, mayonnaise-flavored tuna paste “Tuna Mayo (ツナマヨ)”, salted salmon, and soy-sauce-flavored bonito flakes “Okaka (おかか)”.


Hi, I'm Tomo, a Japanese blogger living in Niigata Prefecture, Japan. I want to introduce things about Japan on this blog, especially unique Japanese products, cooking recipes, cultures and trivia.

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