Food can be an important bridge between cultures, something Yasu and I are certainly learning here in the American South. While you might think that sandwiches and potato salad would make the perfect picnic food, a Japanese person would almost certainly choose おにぎり onigiri, those delicious triangular rice balls seen in Spirited Away and Pokemon (“Nothing beats a jelly-filled doughnut!”). Formed using the honorific “o” prefix that can be seen on many Japanese words plus nigiri, meaning “to squeeze,” onigiri are a popular way to grab a quick snack on the go. (An omusubi is the same thing as an onigiri, by the way.) 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” (tuna) 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.
Onigiri rice balls are the “soul food” of Japan.