It is likely that this is due to my poor understanding, but why are there so many names for「すし」? I think for the most part I have only seen the first three (寿司、鮨、鮓). For whatever reason in some restaurants in America there are these other compositions listed.

Something tells me that their is some nuance between them or not all of them are in use. What are the differences between these words, and why are there so many?


3 Answers 3


First, we can split your examples in to two categories: Words exisiting before the Edo period and 当て字 existing after the Edo period:

当て字 existing after the Edo period

寿司、寿斗※、寿し and 壽司※

※:I have lost confidence in where these 当て字 come from. I found a couple sites that claim that 寿斗, etc. originate from the Edo period. However, the sites do not have anything to back this claim up, so I cannot find any conclusive evidence.

Words exisiting before the Edo period:

鮨 and 鮓

(originally comes from 酸し (see Dono's comment) meaning "sour") refers to fish that has been salted or put into [糟]{かす} and fermented. Originally, this was done to preserve the fish (before refrigerators were evented) and is arguably considered to be the most "correct" version. [鮒鮓]{ふなずし}、[鮎鮓]{あゆずし}、and [鯖鮓]{さばずし} would all fit into this category.

originally referred to [魚]{さかな}の[塩辛]{しおから} from China, however it soon became mixed with 鮓 and both have been used interchangeably for many centuries.

寿司 was an 当て字 developed in the Edo period to mean [寿]{ことぶき}を[司]{つかさど}る or [寿司]{じゅし or よごと} as it was a special food used in celebrations, etc.

寿し would be the same as above with 司 replaced with し.

寿斗 is an 当て字 also. However, I could not find conclusive evidence on the use of 斗, I suspect it has to do with Masu and its use for drinking sake.

壽司 is just a variation of 寿司, as 壽 is just a variation of 寿.

Nowadays in Japan, I only see 寿司 and すし most often, and very rarely 鮨 and 鮓 (probably used more on expensive restaurants). I have never seen 寿斗, etc. in Japan (as also mentioned by sawa that they aren't used in modern Japanese), but this is my own personal experience. Also, the reason there are so many is because its purpose has changed overtime. Originally it referred to fish that was preserved so it wouldn't go bad, next it became known for a special food used in celebrations, etc., and nowadays sushi is so common and widespread, that it slowly is becoming more of an everyday food (although it still is considered somewhat special and is eaten during the holidays, etc.).

  • They are all atezi. susi is from the adjective susi (酸し) "sour". In modern Japanese, it is sui, but it most commonly known as suppai. The initial su is cognate with su (酢) "vinegar".
    – Dono
    Aug 1, 2012 at 0:06
  • @Dono: Ah, good point, I guess I will have to make the distinction "当て字 existing before Edo period" and "当て字 existing after Edo period".
    – Jesse Good
    Aug 1, 2012 at 0:08
  • Note that 鮓 and 酢 are not the same character. Also, not really sure what the relevance of before / after Edo period has to do with it.
    – Dono
    Aug 1, 2012 at 0:12
  • @Dono: I just wanted to say that 鮓 has been around for a longer time than 寿司 (I'll edit my answer to be clearer later when I have time).
    – Jesse Good
    Aug 1, 2012 at 0:18
  • I did not say that the ones you marked are not native Japanese forms. I have no idea whether they are or not. I said that they are not the forms used in present Japanese, and whomever are using them today are non-natives who took them from some resource, which may be written by a Japanese long time ago, or by a non-native.
    – user458
    Aug 1, 2012 at 3:56

If you collect all the written forms of sushi you can find in America, you will find writings that are not Japanese because the majority of sushi restaurants in America are operated by Chinese or Korean people.

  • While I have eaten some pretty horrible "Japanese Cuisine" in America, 寿司、寿斗、寿し and 壽司 are all 当て字 that have exisited since the edo period.
    – Jesse Good
    Aug 1, 2012 at 0:05
  • 1
    My knowledge lack the writings 寿斗, 壽司, but that also indicates that these are not used in present Japanese. If they were used for design, it might make sense, but if they were used just to describe sushi, then the choice for writing in thse characters was most likely not done by a Japanese. Perhaps they were taken from some source.
    – user458
    Aug 1, 2012 at 0:13
  • Here's a reference (I know it's not authorative though).
    – Jesse Good
    Aug 1, 2012 at 0:35
  • I do not deny what you wrote. It is just that they are nt used in ordinary life in Japanese today.
    – user458
    Aug 1, 2012 at 0:42
  • I was told that 寿司 and 鮨 were the ones that Japanese use. I don't know about the others.
    – Chris
    Aug 1, 2012 at 1:55

Use 寿司 the most commonly. Sometimes use 鮨 on Sushi bentobox. Other complicated kanji/ateji might be used because it would look cool, out of ordinary writing.

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