The term "onigiri" covers all kinds of rice balls, with or without filling, and with or without nori seaweed around it.

Is there a specific term that only covers the one class of onigiri available in supermarkets and konbinis that is triangular in shape, has a filling, and is wrapped in a special way that keeps the nori separate from the rice until it is opened so that it stays crisp?

specially wrapped triangular onigiri

(Side note: In Korean I don't know of a generic term for onigiri but there is a term for this specific kind: "삼각김밥" [samgak gimbap].)

  • samgak kimbap sounds like it only references the shape (三角/sankaku, or triangular). How is the packaging a factor in this word? I suspect packaging manufacturers have a word for that, but I'm fairly sure that it's not a general-purpose word recognized outside that industry. – JasonTrue Jun 14 '11 at 5:32
  • @Jason: I'm not talking about the etymology of the Korean word, I'm talking about the referent of the Korean word. At least I have never seen these food items given any other term and I have never seen this Korean term applied to any other food item. – hippietrail Jun 14 '11 at 5:37
  • Are you've saying you've never seen "triangular" applied to any other food item? Because "triangular" and "kimbap" doesn't refer to the packaging in any meaningful form. Sankaku onigiri or sankaku no onigiri would describe triangular onigiri in Japanese, but doesn't have anything to do with the packaging. – JasonTrue Jun 14 '11 at 5:42
  • @Jason: I don't know. I only know that I eat these things a lot in both countries and in Korea it seems everybody calls it "samgak gimbap" and it is lablled thusly on the shelves and packaging, whereas in Japan everybody calls it "onigiri" and it is labelled thusly on the shelves and packaging. But in Japan I know the term also refers to other things. – hippietrail Jun 14 '11 at 5:48
  • 4
    I don't recall hearing a special term, but I would like to nominate コンビニギリ if I may. – Derek Schaab Jun 14 '11 at 14:03

Not really. The closest is "三角のおにぎり" to describe the shape. Onigiri have been made in many different shapes over time, including a round shape and the occasionally clever shape that a creative mom might try to make. But many people now think of triangular ones as the normal mode, so you wouldn't need to say anything other than "onigiri" to imply the triangular shape. You might need to use special terms now to imply non-triangular shapes, the same way you might describe a "square hamburger bun" in English.

I'm not entirely sure if it's the shape or the packaging that you're concerned with identifying. However, unless you're a packaging industry professional, there's probably no need to make that distinction, and therefore there's no commonly used term to describe that special packaging. The fact that you got it at a convenience store or supermarket will be enough to imply this kind of packaging, so you could just say "コンビニのおにぎり" if you got the product at a convenience store.

In Korean the term you are describing, kimbap, without the "samgak" modifier, usually implies a rolled sushi-like item which resembles makimono (巻物) in Japanese. This may explain the need to use the "triangular" modifier in Korean.

As a food geek, I can attest to the credibility of the onigiri explication here: http://justbento.com/handbook/bento-basics/onigiri-on-parade-guide-onigiri-omusubi-rice-ball-shapes-types-and-fun

  • I have noticed that in Japanese supermarkets and konbinis there will be shelves with round onigiri, with and without nori. Also on the weekend I was given handmade plain onigiri with neither filling nor nori. They were roughly trinangular and individually wrapped in cling film. We were served small sachets of nori separately and ate it alongside canned fish. In Korean supermarkets and convenience stores there are no round onigiri and the closest shelf will carry instead makizushi which in Korean is called "gimbap" (without the "samgak"). – hippietrail Jun 14 '11 at 6:02
  • I think that this is a problem that only exists in Korean, since "onigiri" and "makimono" are already sufficiently distinguished from each other. Presumably there's no widely used native word for "onigiri" in Korean and the closest conceptual match was used. – JasonTrue Jun 14 '11 at 6:10
  • That justbento link is great - it's surprising that terminology doesn't exist in Japanese for each of these types of onigiri! (Of course the konbini variety isn't mentioned there either) – hippietrail Jun 15 '11 at 11:28
  • I completely agree with the idea of saying コンビ二おにぎり. That is the first thing that came to mind when I read the question. If it comes from a convenience store I would say コンビニの (maybe even コンビニ来の if I wanted to emphasize that it originates /from/ the convenience store). – LordVysh Mar 6 '14 at 4:32

I do not know a specific term referring to onigiri with a plastic film separating nori from rice.

Wikipedia calls this plastic film “おにぎりフィルム,” but I did not know this name and do not expect that many people know the name.

If I want to refer to this kind of onigiri, I would say something explanatory such as “海苔がフィルムでご飯から仕切られているタイプのおにぎり” (のりがフィルムでごはんからしきられているタイプのおにぎり; onigiri of the kind where nori is separated from rice by a film).

From your comment on the question:

For instance if a friend is going to the konbini and offers to pick something up for me, how would I say "Yes get me some onigiri please, but not the kind with the clammy nori"?

In this case, I might just say “海苔が湿気てないのがいい” (のりがしけてないのがいい; It will be better if the nori is not clammy).


I always had the feeling that [お]むすび ([o]musubi) was more closely associated with onigiri of triangular shape.

The Japanese Wikipedia entry on onigiri seems to agree. Although they point out that both words are generally interchangeable and depend on regions/households, they list the following as one of the difference between the two terms:

1. おにぎりは形を問わないが、おむすびは三角形という説。

("theory 1: onigiri doesn't have to do with a specific shape, omusubi is triangular.")

... But then go on to say that other people see the exact opposite:

2. おにぎりが三角型で、おむすびは俵型という説

Bottom line: there is definitely a connection between shape and use of おにぎり/むすび, but it depends who you ask...

  • Yes, and if you ask the Hawaiian-Japanese community or some of the other pacific islander communities, people might presume you're talking about "spam musubi", which for logistical reasons is usually oval in shape. – JasonTrue Jun 14 '11 at 15:26

コンビニおにぎり... or nothing.

2chan, where you'd expect slang: http://logsoku.com/thread/tsushima.2ch.net/news/1278418851/

otaku, where you'd expect precision: http://blog.livedoor.jp/cvs_onigiri/

That's a general term for any onigiri at convenience stores. The 2chan thread makes it obvious that a supermarket onigiri is different (and better!).

The otaku site uses a "type" field to include things like triangular vs. square. No differentiation is made between "tear here" bagged onigiri and the ones with separated, folding nori.

  • I was about to coin the word コンビニぎり, but this answer beat me to it. – syockit Jul 17 '11 at 15:55

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