I was reading this two articles:

  1. Onigiri wikipedia's article
  2. Nigiri explanation inside wikipedia's sushi article

I first thought that onigiri was a type of sushi but it's not. It calls my attention how something with similar names mean something so different. So my question is:

  • What does nigiri mean?
  • Does the o in the beginning of a word mean something special?
  • 6
    −1 because you made me feel very hungry. (joking) Sep 3, 2012 at 19:25

2 Answers 2


It is a "rice ball", usually with some kind of meat inside and wrapped in seaweed (similar to sushi). Unlike sushi though, which you hold and eat with chopsticks, an onigiri is made to hold in the hand.

The o- is an honorific prefix. It is used to give respect to an object or person, and is done with several choice words (including o-sushi). This sociolinguistic aspect of the Japanese language is imperative to understand, as some words can often sound harsh and/or insulting if the honorific prefix is omitted. See this article for a more detailed description.

[握]{にぎ}り[寿司]{ずし} is a specific kind of sushi. An お[握]{にぎ}り is a rice ball. The word [握]{にぎ}り alone simply means "a grip or handle" (like a doorknob). They're all derived from the verb "[握]{にぎ}る", meaning "to grasp". On the second page you posted, they appear to be using "nigiri" as shorthand for "nigiri-zushi".

  • Thanks for your answer. Does nigiri have any japanese meaning apart from the food?
    – Macarse
    Aug 28, 2012 at 16:11
  • onigiri is also called お結び. what does お結び mean literally?
    – yadokari
    Aug 28, 2012 at 16:15
  • 1
    結び comes from 結ぶ which means to "bind/wrap/tie up". In one sense, it can mean "ending" as mentioned (where it all gets "tied-up"), but it's also a synonym for お握り, probably because they're often wrapped with seaweed.
    – istrasci
    Aug 28, 2012 at 17:45
  • 1
    @Macarse japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/2526/… ;) Aug 28, 2012 at 17:57
  • 1
    Also "ball" is kinda historic. Traditionally onigri were hand made and spherical. These days many are factory made and one very common kind is triangular. There can be many fillings other than meat or fish and they are not always wrapped in seaweed. Oh and I ❤ them. Aug 30, 2012 at 15:44

Nigiri is a rice ball although it cant be made into a ball since balls of nigiri and rice bowls with round top is usually an offering to the dead and if you make a round rice ball and eat it, it is said to bring you very bad luck. The O in front of nigiri or any other word just makes the word more polite. Many think nigiri is sushi rice balls but has nothing to do with sushi. It is just rice balls but onigiri is also the sushi that are rectangle rice balls with fish or other toppings on it or is rice balls that are made into triangles with nori on it or not which the rice is plain withought being mixed with vinegar. Many think sushi is fish on rice but sushi refers mostly to the rice and nothing to do with fish. The SU in sushi is vinegar so Su= vinegar SHI = DO SO SUSHI= MADE WITH VINEGAR.

Also Nigiri has another Japanese name called Musubi or Omusubi and the names is different depending what part of Japan you are in.

  • 手伝おうとしてて、本当にありがたいですが、今のはかなり古い質問でしたよ。5年もたったので、質問を聞いたユーザはもういないと思われます。 Mar 15, 2017 at 2:23
  • 3
    The SHI does not mean "do / make". Rather, it is the classical adjectival suffix. The noun "sushi" is a direct nominalized form of the adjective "sushi" (酸し). As you wrote, the initial "su" is vinegar. Regarding the historical adjectival suffix -shi, this is nothing more than modern -i. Like all regular adjectives, once the attributive form (連体形) over took the conclusive (終止形), sushi becomes suki; next, the medial -k- drops out leaving the su-i, which has the modern -i ending found in adjectives. As such, "sushi" is a fossilized form retaining the original -shi due to the nominalization.
    – Dono
    Mar 15, 2017 at 2:39

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