Onigiri is often called a rice ball in America. I’m not sure of the technical definition but they can also be called Musubi or Omusubi.  If I understand correctly, musubi means "tied up" so I would think that maybe originally it referred to the kind of rice ball with a little strip of nori running around the center but as you can see below, some of the ones labeled as musubi have no piece of nori.

My understanding is that basically Onigiri is rice that’s been pressed into a ball after putting some water on your hands and a little salt so that as you press it into a ball you add some favor do it.  Of course that’s the base.  You can add anything you want to it from using different spices in the rice to adding stuffing and or wrapping it with a piece of nori or even scrambled egg or other wrappings.

They are a huge staple here in Japan and especially at convenience stores or combini there are usually 2 or 3 shelves of them that get restocked every couple of hours, maybe more during peak times like morning rush hour and at night as people are looking for a snack.

They are made fairly fresh too.  I don’t know all the details but if they are more than a few hours old they will get stale, the rice will get hard so I think they get delivered several times a day.

There are a zillion kind and each different combini chain has it’s own flavors.  It seems like every month they try at least 2 new flavors throughout each chain.  For example looking below the Yaki Onigiri and the Ebi Chiri Chaahan are marked "Shinhatsubai" which means "newly on sale".

Here’s a few I checked out recently.

Chikin Raisu

Chicken Rice: Pretty much Mexican rice with little bits of chicken in it.  Another store has these with an egg crepe rapped around them which makes them a little less messy on your fingers.

Yaki Onigiri

Slighty grilled around the edges, Onigiri.  This is a pretty basic kind of onigiri your mom might make though it’s not that common at the combini.

Ebi Chiri Chaahan

Shrimp in chili sauce and fried rice.  YUMMY!!!!  This is one of my favorites.

Ume Chirimen

Plum Crepe? Actually I’m not sure what this is.  I know that Ume is a plum and used in cooking it’s usually pickled so it’s really really sour.  You use very little bits of one to flavor the food.


breaded fried shrimp temakizushi style.  Temakizushi means hand roll. I used to prefer handrolls when I first got here.  The reason is there is more stuffing per bite vs. the other shapes but unfortunately there are not nearly as many varieties of handrolls at most stores.

Toriyaki Sooseeji

Ham sausage and nori with mayo underneath.  This is a good one two.  In Hawaii you can get something similar except using Spam instead and with no mayo.  I like this one better personally, especially warmed.

Ebi Mayoneezu

Shrimp and mayo.  Think seafood salad.  This is always a good one.  I guess I just like mayo.


I’m assuming that’s what this is.  It’s not listed in any of my dictionaries using that kanji but guessing that would make it mustard leaves which seems about right.  It’s got little bits of green things like pickles mixed in.

It says they are Shaki-shaki which means crispy.

Katsukaree pirafu

Breaded pork in curry sauce pilaf.  Yes!

Shio Karubi

Salt Karubi.  Karubi is a Korean style of making beef.  It’s marinated and then grilled.  Good stuff.

Shiichikin Mayoneezu

Sea Chicken and Mayo or in other words tuna salad.  This is a pretty basic one now a days and it’s always good.

Shake Mentaiko

Shake is Salmon.  Mentaiko is some kind of very small fish eggs that are rather spicy.  I don’t know if they are naturally spicy or if they are prepared that way but they are pretty good.  It’s common to use them in a cream sauce with pasta too.

Saamon Mayoneezu

Salmon and mayo.  If you haven’t noticed by now the Japanese like mayo.  That’s just fine with me.


Another cool thing about Onigiri, especially the triangular kind and the rolled kind.  The packaging is ingenious.  The thing is, me being lazy, I didn’t read the instructions for the first year I was here.  Then one random day I finally looked at the bottom of a triangular onigiri packaging and saw the instructions.

First you pull tab #1 which splits the packaging.  Then you plug on tabs 2 and 3 to pull the packaging apart.  What you can’t see is that there are two layers of cellophane so that the nori, the dark green seaweed wrapper is not touching the rice inside until you pull the packaging apart.  Otherwise the nori would get sticky and soggy and probably stick to the wrapper.

Me, I used to open the page from the back and peel open the inner layer very carefully trying not to get too much stuffing on my fingers.  If I had just RTFM (read the friggin manual) I would have not had to worry about it.

The rolled kind have a similar mechanism though it’s slight more complicated.

Seeing this though I used to wonder if Onigiri are supposed to always have dry non soggy nori but I asked one of my teachers and he said it’s just a different style.  There are both styles and people like different ones.  He prefers the soggy style.

All the puck shaped onigiri above that have nori are the soggy style.  The nori is touching the rice before you buy it.  Most specialty stores that sell only onigiri sell the soggy kind.  I like’em crisp personally unless they have just a small strip of nori. 😉

  • maki
  • Mitch
    Home Made Onigiri

    Tonight me and my son followed the advice and made our own Onigiri with a light tuna salad.  They were awesome!    Thanks for the advice everyone.  We used a medium grain rice in our brand new Japanese rice cooker.  Definitely kicks butt! 

  • cellomommy

    Well, I have been taught that cooked food must not stay out longer than two hours, preferably less, at room temperature – not baked goods, but meats, eggs, veggies, soft cheeses.  Perhaps adding vinegar to the rice helps?  I know when I buy sushi, it is refrigerated, even the vegetable-only kind.  I wonder why the rice does not act as a bacteria culture?  So, still wondering – when are you all making them?  Are you not putting egg or seafood in them?  In the morning, and packing them “warm”?  Or the night before and packing them refrigerated?  I have no idea when the riceballs that he was trading his lunch for were made, but he did not get sick . . .what is different about rice balls that they do not have to follow food safety rules? 

  • mizzkittie

    you might try getting one of those rice cookers w/ a time set on it, so the rice is ready when you get up the next morning. it would be easy to make the fillings and keep them in the fridge. simply put the balls together before you leave. the combination of a freezer pack in the lunch bag, and already cold filling from the fridge should cool the rice down quickly

    just a thought.

  • gatito
    Rice Balls

    my friend and i were thinking if we could make rice balls for our anime club at the high school..but i was thinking how are we gonna do this if we don’t have a way to find the “traditional” japanese rice anywhere..couldn’t i just be able to use canilla rice for it…and i need a few pointers for the amount of water needed and rice..im not a math person so please make it simple hahaha 😛

  • chefintraining
    New filling recipe

    yesterday i was playing around with flavors and new things so i try this completely new idea that came to me…making tomato filling…not tomato paste or salsa the thing u use to add in spagghetti just the plain vegefruit cut up in small slices and added inside the rice ball..its delicious…

  • Alexandra
    Japanese Products in London

    Hey, there’s some good Japanese markets in Piccadilly if you want some supplies. There’s a few markets/restaurants on Brewer Street, incl. my fav, Arigatou (across from the Fresh&Wild). Also, if you start at Piccadilly and walk towards Regent Street, there’s the Japan Culture Centre, which has a Japanese restaurant on the main floor and a grocery store in the basement.

  • Pam
    Cool wrapping

    I bought a package of Onigiri wraps from the supermarket. Spent quite 20 minutes and was confused by the multi-layer plastic around the nori. Do I take the nori out, or wrap the first layer around the rice, or wrap both layers around the rice…. It wasn’t easy until I read your pictures. Thanks for pointing out how it’s done. It’s a genius design. I just wish they have better illustration on the package to show people how to use it.

  • momoadachi
    onigiri in boise idaho

    I was wondering if anybody happens to know if there is a store in boise, idaho that sells onigiri because i absolutely love them. i had lived in japan for a year or two with my parents and then we moved back to idaho. now i cant find them. please help me.


                                                              -Momo Adachi 

  • stella

    hi there

    I am trying to find the onigiri smart package with seaweed in it, so i can make my own onigiri at home.  does any of you know where I can buy through online store? coz I live in new zealand…

  • mika

    Theres a place in tempe, AZ on preist and university that sells onigiri. I looked and looked for a place online for somewhere i could buy them and i searched all over phoenix. finaly i went on a “japan hunt” with a friend and looked up TONS of little asain markets and japanese holes in the wall. i came upon this place in tempe and asked them if they knew of anywhere i could buy onigiri. to this, they replied: “how many would you like and what flavor!” HOLY CRAP! ONIGIRI!!! they have salmon, tuna and mayo, konbu, and ume. YUM. i just went back down there today and grabbed me up 3 of each flavor. they’re a buck o’ nine and are the triangle type with crispy nori. theres also a little japanese bakery that sells curry pan, an pan, cream pan and ufo pan next door.

  • Serafina
    Mmm, Onigiri…

    I just wanted to say that Mitsuwa Marketplace rocks! I buy a lot of stuff from there, not just onigiri. If you live in the San Diego area, Ichiban is a really really good restaurant for anything Japanese. Uwajimia’s (spelling?) in Seattle is probably the biggest Japanese market I’ve ever been to though, so it’s also a great choice if you live in that area ^^

  • Jess

    The absolute BEST kind of onigiri is the umeboshi-paste filled ones! There is a Japanese grocery store where I live in Victoria, BC (Fujiya) and they make all kinds and use that crazy wrapping too! However, my boyfriend makes the best umeboshi onigiri ever!

  • Shawna
    *sigh* I miss them

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane- I used to love buying the tuna/mayo ones at my local combini when Ii lived in Japan.  I will have to try to make these again.  I *loved* the triangle ones, where the nori was crispy 🙂


  • Ethan

    Does anyone know if you can get onigiri in Newcastle, NSW, Australia?


  • Sarah
    Onigir Shop in UK!!

    I’ve been reading through the comments and i know a place which sells onigiri in London. Its called Wasabi Ltd and there are a few of them dotted around London. They do lovely tuna ones with the cool packaging 🙂 As for ingredients my medium sized sainsburys has ingredients as do the Tesco extras.

    I haven’t actually made any yet, but i have all the ingredients and am going to try it tonight for tea 🙂 i have found a recipe on the internet which suggests dipping them in soy sauce mixed with mirin and then frying them so i’m going to try that with a couple of them too 🙂 has anyone on here tried that?

  • someone

    If you don’t use nori (only because I don’t have any) will it still be okay? In terms of stickiness and such?

  • Linda

    You don’t have to use seaweed, I think that’s just so your hands don’t get sticky while you’re eating it. As long as you use the right rice (Japanese short-grain) it’ll stick together once you mold it!

  • TheWhale
    Veggie ones

    I got totally hooked on these (like others I see!) while working in Japan.

    Although being a Vego, I am trying to find the recipes for the non-meat ones. I thought there were a few ones that either had seaweed in soy sauce and a sort of spinach in seasame oil.

    Does anyone have a recipe for these sort???


  • jackie
    onigiri in virginia

    does anyone know where onigiri or just plain nori is sold in southern virginia?? i used to live in okinawa (I am a military brat) now i am back home and i crave it!!!

  • anne

    does anyone know where to get pickled plum in vancouver bc ? i’ve been looking everywhere!

  • JB
    Where do I buy them?

    I live in Raleigh, NC. What is the nearest asian marketplace or store I could buy these prepackaged onigiri in the picture above from? I want to try them! And if I can make them on my own do the stores have the ingredients like the mayo (spicy) to make them?

  • Ellie
    UK Onigiri?

    hey, does anyone know where to get onigiri in the UK? It looks really nice and I want to try it. But I can’t seem to find any shops that sell it. Thanks for the help xx

  • tracy
    Pickled plum in Vancouver

    You can buy pickled plum and umeboshi plum in vancouver bc at


    they have a store on Royal Oak, near Imperial st. in Burnaby

  • Sandy
    Buy Onigiri nori with smart package

    Hello! everybody,

    Just wanna tell u that I got the onigiri smart package from eBay.  Its product is so good for my party and great for my lunch box.  Want this one go sstrade2009 on eBay. or contact her at somsrilao2009@gmail.com.

    It’s really great.


  • Makoto Yamaguchi

    I want to open an onigiri store as a fast food restaurant. I want to know what other people’s thoughts are about doing it.

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  • where can you buy them online?