Sushi is one of the traditional Japanese dishes you should eat when you come to Japan. When talking about sushi, you would imagine "Nigiri Sushi (握り寿司)" which has fresh raw seafood ingredient on top of vinegared rice, but there are various types of sushi other than that. Let's take a look at the origin of sushi and how the “Nigiri Sushi” has become the popular sushi in the world.


The fermented food is the origin of the Japanese sushi? What?

When talk about sushi, most people imagine something that has fresh raw fish like tuna, salmon, shrimp etc. on top of a piece of vinegared rice, like the sushi in the photo. This sushi is called the “Nigiri Sushi (握り寿司)”. It is said that the origin was a pickled fish called "Narezushi (なれずし) which existed before the Nara era. Salted fish is placed in a container together with rice and it is immersed for a long period with weight(stones) on it. The fish finally fermented with acidity taste.


Sushi was arranged for a quicker fermentation

Although Narezushi took 1 or 2 years to ferment, only the fish was consumed, the rice was not. During the Edo period, "Oshizushi (pushed sushi)" which applies a strong pressure to it to accelerate the fermentation process was invented. The other invention during this period was the "Sasamaki sushi(笹巻寿司)" which sushi are rolled with bamboo leaf and mixed with vinegar. It is said that the the current form of “Nigiri Sushi” was born from this Sasamaki Sushi.


The Nirigi Sushi was the fast food in the Edo period!

The Nigiri Sushi was most popular during the Edo period. At that time, it was not something like the current situation, but it was sold at stalls on the streets. The price was around 80 yen (or Yonbun “四文” at the currency that time) per piece and it was a reasonable price where the customers would just eat like snacks. During Edo a lot of laborers worked on a daily wage basic. So, those inexpensive stalls of sushi were popular among them.


Sushi spread throughout the country due to the evolution of ice making technology and refrigerators

Meanwhile, high-class sushi began to appear in sushi, which costed one silver coin (一朱銀). During Tenpo's reform (1841-1843) at Edo period, more than 200 sushi craftworkers were executed to prevent excessive luxury style of living. In the Meiji Era, due to the development of ice making technology, and the spread of commercial refrigerators, fresh fish became easier to preserved. So, the sushi spread from Tokyo to the whole country. And in the Showa era, thanks to the Kaiten Sushi (回転寿司) and Temakizushi (手巻き寿司hand-rolled sushi) , sushi became more familiar in general households.


Edo's food culture by Nobuo Harada

Points of sushi by Hibino Mitsutoshi