Today I saw onigiri claiming to contain "しゃけ" (shake). When I asked my friend what that was, she said it was the same as "さけ" (sake), "salmon".

So are these two just different readings of a kanji, regional differences, used by different generations, etc? How did the two pronunciations come about? Which should I use?

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    Looking at the title of this question, I cannot help imagining a cold drink made from salmon (which will probably taste bad). Commented Jun 15, 2011 at 20:49
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    everytime i ask for salmon at a sushi place by saying "Sake" i get a beer, so i say "Shake" and there is never a problem. Albeit, Salmon in katakana seems to be the preferred way to order though Commented Jun 15, 2011 at 23:08
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    @Mark: Be careful not to say ツナ when you want sushi with まぐろ, because ツナ usually does not mean fresh tuna :) japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/533/… Commented Jun 15, 2011 at 23:14
  • @Tsuyoshi: I found yet another word for "tuna" on the same onigiri shelf: "とろ" (toro) - should I add it to the old question somehow or ask a new question? Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 0:15
  • toro is just fatty high grade tuna. I haven't seen much confusion about it. Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 0:44

4 Answers 4


Both さけ and しゃけ mean salmon and are written as 鮭 in kanji (but I will avoid using this kanji in this answer for an obvious reason). As far as I know, there is no difference in meaning, but some people seem to distinguish the two words in meanings (see below).

According to a webpage by Maruha Nichiro Foods, Inc., the Kōjien dictionary lists the word しゃけ as a variation of the word さけ with the same meaning. The webpage also states that there is no obvious geographical tendency between the use of さけ and しゃけ.

According to this page and this page, some people distinguish the two words, in which case さけ means living or raw salmon and しゃけ means cooked salmon. I had never heard of this distinction personally, and I doubt that many people distinguish the use of the two words.


This answer from another site claims that しゃけ is an accent difference in Saitama, Chiba, Shizuoka (basically Kantou).


But, when I did a part-time job at an 居酒屋(いざかや) during my college time in 四国 (Shikoku - not in Kantou region) around 2005, some people used しゃけ. I didn't know the meaning at that time, and some people smiled and told me that it is the same as さけ and told me some people use it.

And some use しゃけ to differentiate from 酒(さけ) "alcohol", according to another answer on that Q & A page.

  • I saw it tonight in Yamagata City, so not really Kanto either and the other day I saw sake here elsewhere. Commented Jun 15, 2011 at 16:01
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    which is interesting, cause I always see "salmon" in katakana here in Nagoya. Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 3:24

Part of the variance, and the confusion, arises from the fact that this word is not native to Japanese -- this was originally a borrowing from Ainu. The Ainu term for salmon is variously sak ipe, sak ibe, shak embe, depending on dialect, and apparently both the s- and sh- beginnings were borrowed into Japanese. Modern Hokkaido Ainu seems to use sak ipe, literally "summer + food" in reference to the salmon fishing season.

As others have noted, it is sometimes advisable to use the shake variant in Japanese to avoid potential confusion with 酒{さけ}.

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    This is really informative. I don't think there's any consciousness that シャケ is from Ainu up here. I'll poll my class in October.
    – virmaior
    Commented Sep 24, 2016 at 6:50
  • @virmaior, please do! I'll be very interested in what you hear back. :) Commented Sep 24, 2016 at 6:51
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    Potential references: gogen-allguide.com/sa/sake_sakana.html mentions the Ainu link; archive.org/stream/ainuenglishjapan00batcuoft#page/386/mode/2up is Batchelor's old Ainu dictionary, with sak-ibe on page 386; frpac.or.jp/teach/files/text-bihoro_tyu.pdf for a glossary of modern Hokkaido Ainu, with sak on page 92 and ipe on page 88; an online Ainu course, with sak in Lesson 23, and ipe in Lesson 26. These all use modern sak; I'm unsure of shak. HTH! Commented Sep 24, 2016 at 7:06
  • Having to think of a testing methodology. Thinking to give them 10 words and have them mark the ones they think have an ainu origin. Throw in a few obvious ones on each side to calibrate.
    – virmaior
    Commented Sep 24, 2016 at 7:36

Wikipedia has this to say: (I omitted some parts)

「シャケ」[...] それを食品用に加工したものを「シャケ」だという見解もある一方で

->Vulgar translation:

「シャケ」 is used when talking about salmon processed to become food.


(Only a theory atm, no source to support it) In Edo period, 「はひふへほ・さしすせそ」 were considered low standard so 「シャケ」 became 「さけ」

The food thing makes sense in my opinion but I've personally only used and heard サーモン

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    The Wikipedia article just states “Some say this, others say that.” Please do not drop the “some say” part in the translation. It also has the infamous “[needs citations]” label. Commented Jun 15, 2011 at 16:19
  • oh yes, the history part has the "citation needed" link, I overlooked it. But looks like the "processed food" idea is recurrent in most definitions.
    – repecmps
    Commented Jun 15, 2011 at 16:32
  • The Wikipedia article states both parts (not only the second claim but also the first claim) as just existing theories. If you translate the article, please do not strengthen the claim by dropping “見解もある” (some consider …). Commented Jun 15, 2011 at 16:58
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    I have something against Wikipedia, but my comments here are unrelated to it. You claim that Wikipedia states something, when Wikipedia states something significantly weaker. What happens if a reader only understands English? It is important to keep “見解もある” if you want to use Wikipedia as source. If you claim that シャケ is used for processed salmon as your own opinion, there is nothing wrong with it. You are confusing your opinion and what is written in Wikipedia. Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 12:08
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    I am writing this comment for you and readers. It is up to you whether you edit your post. Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 12:10

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