Why is Onigiri called so? and its literal Meaning

As I wrote in the previous post, onigiri is a rice ball dish different from nigiri. The latter is a style of sushi, but onigiri is not.

Some people might be wondering why onigiri is not the polite form of the word nigiri, as the polite way to say sushi is o-sushi.

I had no idea of the origin of the word onigiri either. So I asked Wikipedia for help, as always, and in the process, this article on Olive-Hitomawashi also aided me.

Why is it called onigiri (おにぎり)?

Onigiri or Nigiri Meshi

Based on those sources, the origin of the word onigiri is derived from the act of grasping rice, meaning “ご飯を握る” in Japanese.

In ancient Japan, rice was called “飯/いひ (ihi)”, and “握飯/にぎりいい (nigirii)” was the word for onigiri. 

Later, the pronunciation nigirii changed into nigiri-meshi (literally meaning grasped rice), and it is considered, as its feminine expression, onigiri came to be used.

Even now, nigiri-meshi is used as a synonym of onigiri, and given the context above, the literal meaning of both is “grasped rice”. 


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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