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What Am I Eating? Onigiri, Translated

Satisfying, cheap and delicious - onigiri is the staple of Tokyoites on the go. Cynthia breaks down the kanji for a few of her favourite onigiri.

By 2 min read 13

Satisfying, cheap, plentiful—onigiri is the healthier alternative for your late-night konbini raids or mid-day “holy-crap-I’m-starving-and-have-no-time” moments. Onigiri (お握り “rice ball”) is a soft triangle or round form of rice, usually wrapped in nori, and stuffed with fish, pickles, roe… or something.

Here are a few I’ve tried, with kanji translations.

1) Yaki Tarako (Grilled Cod Fish Roe)

Salty, tiny bead eggs, often mixed with mayo. Not my favorite, but not horrendous either, tarako is popular in all kinds of Japanese dishes, from noodles to sushi, and is found in bentos and markets everywhere.


2) Bene Shake (Grilled Red Salmon)

There are several words for salmon. I’m learning them all because salmon is my friend.

So there’s shake (some say this is referring only to cooked salmon, some say that’s not true—the salmon in this onigiri was definitely cooked)


4) Salmon Mayo

This is one of my favorites, because a) it tastes yum and b) I can read it.


5) Hokkaido Salmon and Ikura

Ikura is salmon roe, the big, orange, bubble eggs, and Hokkaido is famous for having the best salmon roe in Japan. Ikura is in loads of Japanese dishes, and is especially popular in chirashi sushi (bowl of sushi rice topped with loads of fish. So yum!).


Other fillings include:

Umezuke (梅漬け) pickled ume (Japanese plum)

Konbu (昆布) kelp

Mentaiko (明太子) another cod roe

Pickled takana (高菜 ) mustard greens

Okaka (おかか) is flakes of hard smoked Bonito… this is also known as katsuobushi (鰹節)- the dried fish flakes (it’s a different fish than bonito).

There are countless options to choose from, but knowing a few of the kanji can keep you from getting a mouthful of OOHNO.

Mystery Food Tips:

I keep shots of my favorites on my phone until I memorize them. Lawson’s has photos next to the onigiri so you at least have an idea of what you’re getting. Handy!

If you a have favorite, post a pic and description below in the comments!

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  • Caitlin says:

    I had a favorite and finally tried to Google translate it after months of eating it. It said horse of the liver. Still unsure what I ate but it was delicious. Still have the picture of the wrapper! I miss Japan so much!!!!

  • ツナマヨ is the best!

  • Niclas Fagerholm says:

    Mentaiko (明太子) is also very good! Its a little bit spicy, which goes well with the rice imo.

  • Andrew Flower says:

    シーチキンマヨ is my favourite! My girlfriend gets annoyed that I get the same one every time “また???”

  • Susanne Karnowka says:

    it is beni not bene ^^ and you should have mentioned the “ebi mayo” (cut shrimps with mayo) they are (in my opinion) the most yummy ones and you can’t buy them in stores just kombini x.x!

  • htodd2 says:

    Sea chicken mayo is my favorite and I usually get ume shiso as well. You should show pictures of how to unpack the onigiri for people reading from foreign lands. It’s pretty interesting and keeps the nori from getting gummy.

  • Anna Itoshima says:

    I love onigiri.There are many in Korea, but the rice isn’t good. My favorite is Mentaiko!

  • Christopher Prieto says:

    My favorite is the Tuna Mayo often spelt in katakana as sea chicken mayo. Second favorite is the Miso flavored, which is available in Okinawa, but not sure if mainland Japan has them.

    Also, I love my onigiri microwaved. The kombini employees almost always asked to microwave them.

  • Anthony Joh says:

    Another good tip is that many grocery stores will discount the price of onigiri between 10% – 30% as it gets closer to closing time. If you’re working late it’s a good way to save some yen!

  • mchan1 says:

    If you buy the onigiri from the stores (conbini), are they cold? Can it be eaten cold or room temperature? Or do you microwave them?


    • Saidin says:

      Room temp is usually best and eat within a couple of hours. Second best option is cold. Never, never microwave. And always eat them the day you buy them (the next morning in a pinch but no later).



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