If you were to plan a picnic, you might pack a basket containing things like sandwiches, potato salad or maybe some pickles, but a Japanese person would almost certainly bring along onigiri, those delicious rice balls. Formed using the honorific “o” prefix that can be seen on many Japanese words and nigiri, meaning “to squeeze,” onigiri are a popular way to grab a quick snack on the go. Although they can be as simple as a hunk of salted rice pressed into a triangle shape, there’s usually a bit of fish, konbu seaweed or ume plum inside, and nori covering the outside. Onigiri are a major product category for convenience stores in Japan, and even before a new gaijin learns to start reading the language around him he often memorizes the all-important onigiri color code at Seven Eleven — red for salmon, blue for “sea chicken” and so on. Onigiri are a staple of bento culture, and Japanese housewives get up extra early to press rice balls to include in lunches for their kids or husbands, just as my own mother made peanut butter and honey sandwiches for me all those years. Along with popular bento items, J-List sells many onigiri related products on the site — click and browse some of them now.
A gaijin needs to learn the onigiri color codes to survive in Japan.