Sushi: Why it is called Sushi and its literal Meaning

With the Japanese food boom, Sushi (寿司) gained worldwide fame, now enjoyed in many countries.

However, many people don’t know the origin of the traditional Japanese dish and seem to be wondering why it is called that way.

That also applies to people living in Japan, and honestly, I was one of them till I researched those mysteries recently.

Why is it called Sushi?

Why it is called Sushi

Based on these articles (this and this), the birthplace of Sushi isn’t Japan, but the dish originated in Southeast Asia.

The original fermented form called Narezushi (熟鮓) was invented by the locals living in mountainous areas to preserve fish that was difficult to get,

and the delicacy was presented to the Imperial Court of Japan as a gift in the Nara period (710 to 794).

Sumeshi Making

In the Edo period, about 300-400 years ago, rice vinegar was popularized in Japan, which gave birth to unfermented Sushi called Hayazushi (早ずし). 

Based on the Japanese etymology dictionaries, 日本釈名 (Nihon Shakumyo) and 東雅 (Touga), compiled around 1700, Sushi got its name because it was 酸し (Sushi).

酸し is an old word for Suppai (酸っぱい: meaning sour), so the literal meaning of Sushi was Sour.

(Reference Pages: Wikipedia 寿司, Nihongo Biyori, Gogen Yurai )


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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.