It seems that there are (at least) three words for "tuna" in Japanese:

  • "マグロ" / "鮪" / "まぐろ" (maguro) - Seems to be the native name for the creature and used at least in sushi
  • "ツナ" (tsuna) - Seems to be from English and used for canned tuna and o-nigiri
  • "シーチキン" (shiichikin) - Mistakenly read as "chicken" by other gaijin besides me and also seems to mean canned-tuna style as used in o-nigiri, but what is its etymology?
  • 1
    シーチキン sounds like "sea chicken"--i.e. chicken of the sea? chickenofthesea.com
    – Amanda S
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 1:57
  • @Amanda: Yes that turns out to be true yet it didn't occur to anybody I asked! Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 1:59
  • I rolled back the removal of the [fauna] tag because the removal seems unjustified. See also the meta discussion about this. Commented Jun 19, 2011 at 15:45
  • Lol reminds me of when the manager of my dorm here made some pasta for us... 管理人さん「シーチキンパスタ作ったよー♪」 俺「シーチキンって何っすか??」 「ツナだよ、ツナ。」
    – Robin
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 4:46
  • 1
    In English, if memory serves, the fish was known earlier just by its name albacore, attested by Merriam-Webster to 1579. I'd heard that tuna was used later as an attempt at rebranding to boost sales, attested to 1881, with chicken of the sea a more recent re-branding effort. Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 17:33

1 Answer 1


まぐろ (also written as マグロ and 鮪) is the Japanese word for thunnus, a specific kind of tuna. It refers to both the living fish and the food. Traditionally, まぐろ also referred to billfish because billfish was considered to be a close kind to thunnus. Because of this, even today まぐろ can also refer to billfish.

ツナ comes from the English word tuna and it refers to drained and flaked tuna (not necessarily thunnus), which is mainly used for tuna salad. I do not know if drained tuna before being flaked is also called ツナ or not.

シーチキン is the product name of canned ツナ made by Hagoromo Foods Corporation. (The Japanese Wikipedia states that it is named after chicken because its taste is similar to chicken.) But this product is so common in Japan that ツナ in general is sometimes called シーチキン.

Edit: Revision 1 contained a mistake about the meaning of the word まぐろ.

  • Chicken of the Sea from America was copied (licensed?) into Japanese as Sea Chicken (シーチキン). What a gem!
    – crunchyt
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 5:15
  • @crunchyt, It's registered trademark - NOV 1958 Sea Chicken became a registered brand mark.
    – YOU
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 5:23
  • Domo! My 雑学力 on this topic is now primed for my next trip to the izakaya.
    – crunchyt
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 5:38

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