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8 Types of Popular Sushi in Japan

By Umami Recipe
8 Types of Popular Sushi in Japan

Sushi is arguably the most known Japanese food outside of Japan. For most non-Japanese, sushi equals either nigiri-zushi or maki-zushi, but in fact, there are many other variations of sushi that are worth knowing about. In addition, various ingredients are employed to make the perfect sushi depending on the region.

Nigiri Sushi (握り寿司)

Nigiri-zushi is the most common type of sushi, and consists of bite-sized pieces of vinegared rice topped with a variety of seafood.

Nigiri-zushi was perfected during the Edo period (1603-1868) and became known as Edomae-zushi because it was made from fish caught in the sea off of Edo.

When nigiri-zushi first appeared, it was a food that was prepared for immediate consumption. Considered Japan's first "fast-food", sushi was very popular among the Edo people, who are commonly described as impatient.

Traditionally, two pieces of nigirizushi constitute one order, and are served side by side. There are two theories as to why nigirizushi are served in two pairs.

The first theory is that nigirizushi was divided into two pieces to approximate the quantity of a rice ball. The sushi made by Hanaya Yohei, the originator of nigirizushi, found that nigirizushi the size of a traditional rice ball was too large to eat. So Yohei began serving it in two portions side by side. The method of serving in pairs caught on, and is practiced without question throughout Japan to this day.

The second theory is that the two pieces arranged next to each other bring good fortune.
Just like the koma dog, in Japan, anything with two symmetrical pieces in a row is considered to be good luck, hence the nigirizushi served in pairs.

Makizushi (巻き寿司)

Maki-zushi is a type of sushi in which rice is spread on a sheet of nori (seaweed), and seafood is placed on top of the rice and rolled up.

It is easy for children to eat because the ingredients do not fall off the rice, and it is also popular at home because it is easy for people of all ages to eat. In addition to nori (seaweed), shaved kelp can be used, and other ingredients can be substituted for the ingredients inside the rolls.
The name of the sushi roll changes depending on the thickness of the roll: thin, medium, or thick. The ingredients used also change depending on the thickness of the roll. Hosomaki is the most common type of sushi roll and is often served at sushi restaurants. There is often only one type of filling. The most famous ones are natto maki, kanpyo maki, and kappamaki with cucumber.
Nakamaki is a sushi roll that contains several items, mainly seafood. There is the traditional ehomaki and the recently introduced salad roll.
Tai-maki is a sushi roll that is large in size and contains many ingredients. The most common ingredients are omelet, cucumber, kampyo, dried shiitake mushrooms, sakura-denbu and carrots. Some of the sushi rolls are decorated with beautiful patterns on the cut surface.

For thin, medium, and thick rolls, the nori is usually on the outermost side. However, in some western sushi rolls, such as California rolls, the nori is rolled inside out so that it does not come to the surface. There is also a type of sushi called Temakizushi where the rice and ingredients are wrapped with nori by hand without using a maki screen. Temakizushi is often served at home parties. It is perfect for home parties because the nori replaces the plate and you can eat without getting your hands dirty.

Gunkan maki is a type of sushi roll in which vinegared rice is wrapped with nori and topped with ingredients. Gunkan-maki is often used for ingredients such as salmon roe and sea urchin, which tend to fall apart easily when made into nigiri sushi. Recently, a wide variety of ingredients such as negitoro, milt, white fish, crab miso, tuna salad, natto (fermented soybeans), and corn are served as gunkan maki, including at conveyor-belt sushi restaurants.

Inarizushi (稲荷寿司)

Inari-zushi is a thin pocket of fried tofu stuffed with vinegared rice.

The fox is believed to be the messenger of the god Inari. The name comes from the fact that the favorite food of the fox, which is enshrined at Inari Shrine, is deep-fried tofu. Inari-zushi is also called "Oinari-san".

Inari-zushi itself is also a sacred food offered to the gods, especially to the Inari god during the Hatsu-uma Festival. Inari is the god of agriculture, and is enshrined in Inari Shrines throughout Japan.

Originally, the fox's favorite food was rats, but since it was considered taboo to kill them, fried tofu made of soybeans were offered instead. Later, the fried tofu was stuffed with rice, an agricultural produce made possible by the god of Inari.
We see that inari-zushi is a combination of two foods related to the god Inari.

There are two types of Inari-zushi shapes, the "bale" and the "triangle", depending on whether they are made in East or West Japan.

In the eastern part of Japan, inari-zushi is mainly made in the shape of a bale, which was created to resemble a rice ring.
In western Japan, on the other hand, triangles are the mainstream, representing fox ears. Both the bale shape and the triangle shape reflect a belief in the Inari god.

The main ingredients of inari-zushi are fried tofu and vinegared rice. Today, however, there are many variations of Inari-zushi, including simple ones with just fried tofu and sushi rice, ones with ingredients such as sesame seeds, vegetables, and shiitake mushrooms in the sushi rice, and ones made with rice balls.

Chirashi-zushi (ちらし寿司)

Chirashi-zushi consists of a variety of ingredients scattered on top of vinegared rice.
The literal translation of "chirashi-zushi" is sushi rice topped with a variety of ingredients. The abbreviated name is simply "chirashi", otherwise known as "nama chirashi," or "kukiyose chirashi.

Chirashi-zushi is a derivative of nigiri-zushi, and became widely popular after the Meiji era (1868-1912).
In the Kanto region, chirashi-zushi is made by arranging ingredients used in nigiri-zushi on top of vinegared rice. However, in areas outside the Kanto region, it is made by mixing vinegared rice with seasoned ingredients and decorating it with boiled eggs and seaweed. If the rice is not vinegared rice, it is called "Kaisen-don".

The ingredients used in chirashi-zushi include tuna, white meat, glittering fish (hikari-mono), red clams, squid, shrimp, octopus, salmon roe, sea urchin, sea eel and other seafood, as well as boiled egg, dried gourd, shiitake mushroom, ovolo, gari, bamboo shoot and starch. The garnish tends to be different between home and restaurants. At home, shiitake mushrooms and boiled eggs are used as toppings, while at sushi restaurants, seafood is often the norm. Rape blossoms and butterbur sprouts are sometimes used to add a seasonal touch. A variety of ingredients are used depending on the region and household.

Chirashi-zushi, with its gorgeous appearance, is often served during celebrations, such as on March 3rd, the day of Hinamatsuri, a Japanese event celebrating the healthy growth of girls.

Oshizushi (押し寿司)

Oshizushi is sushi that is packed tightly in a box. Compared to nigirizushi, it can be stored for a longer period of time.

Oshizushi is not made one piece at a time like the typical nigirizushi, but is pressed into a mold where a large quantity is made at once, which is then cut into pieces.

Oshizushi has spread as a family dish and is eaten in many regions as traditional sushi. There are several types of pressed sushi. In addition to the square shape, there are also fan, flower and ginkgo shapes. The ingredients that accompany the rice vary from region to region. Seasonal ingredients are common, such as seafood, vegetables, dried foods, and canned foods, which are placed on top of the rice and pressed together. Oshi-zushi resembles a bento box filled with side dishes.

One of the most famous oshi-zushi is "battera-zushi" from Osaka. Battera-zushi is made by placing sushi rice, mackerel, and kombu (white kelp) in a rectangular box, and then pressing it into the box using a press mold. Saba-zushi, which is often found in the Kansai and Chugoku regions, is made in a similar way to Battera, but instead of being pressed into a rectangular box, it is formed using a sushi mat, so it is cylindrical instead of rectangular, and wrapped in bamboo leaves. Trout sushi, a specialty of Toyama Prefecture, is made by filling a circular bamboo bowl with sushi rice, arranging the trout fillets neatly, and then making pressed sushi.
There is also "Kakinoha-zushi" made by wrapping the sushi in persimmon leaves and then pressing it into the bowl.

Narezushi (なれ寿司)

Narezushi is made by mixing fish with salt and rice and storing it for a long time to lacto-ferment it. It has the sweetness and deliciousness unique to fermented foods and smells like a fine cheese. It can be eaten as is, or grilled for a different taste. Since it is a fermented food, it has its own unique flavor and smell, so preferences will vary. For those who like narezushi, the stronger the smell, the better.

This type of sushi is eaten in inland areas where there are not as many fish to catch, and each region has its own characteristics. For example, in Shiga Prefecture, narezushi is famous for its use of funa fish. In addition to funa, carp, ayu (sweetfish), hokke (salmon), kipper, and salmon are also used. The pickling period is usually a few days or weeks up to several months for the longer fermentation periods. Some of the longer periods can span over several years. There are even some narezushi that have been fermented for as long as a century. The fermentation process keeps it from spoiling even after 100 years, but after 100 years, the sushi is transformed into a semi-liquid state.

In narezushi, the lactic acid and bacteria in the rice gradually break down the fish and make it soft, so if prepared properly, even the head of the fish can be eaten.

Some believe that narezushi is the origin of sushi. Although nigirizushi is the most common type of sushi, narezushi has a history that precedes it. Narezushi was invented as a way to preserve fish for a long time. This was particularly useful for people living in mountainous areas.

Originally, rice used for narezushi was simply used as a means to preserve the fish. However, when the Japanese realized how delicious the rice tasted after absorbing the sweetness of the fish, they began to create many other types of sushi.

Chakinzushi (茶巾寿司)

Chakinzushi is a dish made by wrapping sushi rice in a thin egg layer and binding the opening with kanpyo and mitsuba.

The dish is often served at Hinamatsuri (Girls' Festival) because of its colorful and generous appearance. Because it contains symbolic ingredients such as shrimp (longevity) and beans (hard work), it is considered appropriate for celebrations and has become an established dish for the Hinamatsuri festivities.

Chakin-zushi is a creative sushi born in Tokyo in the Taisho era (1912-1926) when a chef named Yoshitaro Obara served it at a tea ceremony for the Fushimi Palace family. Later, His Imperial Highness gave it the name "Chakin Sushi".

Some people eat it by untying the mouth, which is bound with kanpyo or mitsuba, and eating the contents first, while others eat it whole.

Inakazushi (田舎寿司)

Inakazushi is a type of sushi that uses mountain vegetables such as bamboo shoots, myoga and shiitake mushrooms instead of seafood. These ingredients are especially abundant in mountainous areas, and the dish celebrates seasonal ingredients.

Inakazushi is a local dish that originated in the inland mountains of Kochi Prefecture, where it is considered a hospitality dish.

Other mountain produce often found in inakazushi are konjak, royal fern, itadori, zuki, shiba-zuke and pickles. Myoga and shiitake mushrooms are placed on top of sushi rice and nigiri, while konjak and bamboo shoots are made by stuffing sushi rice inside the ingredients.

Kochi Prefecture is the top producer of yuzu in Japan. The rice used to make inakazushi is made with vinegar containing yuzu juice, which adds to its aroma.

A Wide Variety of Sushi

There are many types of sushi besides nigirizushi and maki-zushi, and even within a single type of sushi, the ingredients used vary from region to region.
Did any of these sushi types look appealing to you? We recommend you try them!

Umami Recipe Team

Bringing what's new on Japanese food and culture, from traditional to current trends to your home.

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