FROM SUSHI TO NIGIRI SUSHI

abalone When the "Hei An jidai" arrived in Japan, sushi quickly gained a reputation as an "innovative way of eating" and the number of the "tane" (items used for sushi) increased rapidly. According to the "Engishiki" (established in 930), in mountainous regions of Japan, deer and even warthogs were used as sushi tane. Furthermore, for areas with lakes and rivers, sweet fish and crucian carp were often used as sushi tane. Lastly, in regions that lay along beach shores, mussels, abalone, sea squirts and sardines were used.

During the 15th~16th century (Muro Machi jidai), mussels and sea squirts were no longer being used, but it was a common sight to see tane such as bamboo shoots and eggplant. Also unique to this timer period, fish such as loach fish and catfish started to appear. The Japanese people's eating habits also started to change at the mark of the "Oonin no Ran" (1460).

Rice was no longer steamed but simmered, and two meals a day turned to three. This also influenced the sushi at the time. First, the fermentation process was shortened because of the invention of rice vinegar. The vinegar rice was stuffed in a small box, fish were put on top, and they were pressed down tightly with a lid like the one shown to the top left. This was first called "Hako zuke". This hako sushi heavily represents the origins of sushi, but it is also currently Kansai's (Osaka region) trademark style of sushi.

It is said that the Kansai style of sushi (hako sushi) first arrived in Edo (present day Tokyo) in 1680. In Edo's old local magazine (Edo no Shika no ko, 1687), two sushi restaurants, Kinko Ya and Suruga Ya are mentioned. These two restaurants are the first sushi restaurants to be recorded duing the Edo area.

In the 1695 9th Edition of the Honcho Shoku Kan, in the section about sushi, it states:”…mix fish meat into cold rice and mix in a little vinegar.” The Honcho Shoku Kan magazine was established in 1692. By seeing this, we can roughly estimate when vinegar was first used with sushi.

The 1698 (Genroku Hachi- nen) publication, Ueshima Shobu's "Shogen Jikou Setsu Youshu" talks specifically about "Kokera Sushi". Also, in "Ryoori Mono Gatari" there is a passage that says, "For a salmon fillet cut the meat into thin slices, mix a little salt into the rice, and then put the salmon slices on top of the rice." which is very similar to today's Fuji's "Masu sushi".

As mentioned before about the "hako sushi", it had another name, "kiri sushi". The name kiri sushi is derived from the word "kiri" meaning "to cut". This hako sushi is cut into pieces (eventually to be made into nigiri sushi) is wrapped with kuma zasa (bamboo grass) with omoshi on top. This is what is called "kenuki sushi".

The Birth of Nigiri Sushi

The birth of Nigiri proved to be a major development in the history of sushi. "Kiri sushi", was the innovative and instant version of the popular Edomae Nigiri sushi. There are many different stories regarding this sushi, and many of them are considered to be historically accurate. Between 1818 and 1831, Edo's "Kyoheiei sushi" (restaurant(s)) opened at the hands of owner Hanaya Kyoheiei (1799~1858) who claimed to be the originator of Nigiri sushi. However, as stated in the Kyoheiei Jiden, even before the Kyohei Sushi restaurant was opened, there were a number of people who claimed to be the "creator of Nigiri sushi." Therefore, it is most likely that the Kyoheiei Sushi was opened after Hanaya Kyoheiei had received much influence from other chefs. The date when Kyoheiei's Nigiri sushi restaurant first opened is not known exactly (it is believed to have opened between 1825 and 1826).

During the Edo and through the mid-Meiji era (1800~1910), tuna (including fatty tuna) was not used as sushi tane. At this time, tuna was considered to be a low-class fish and were often thrown away with no thought of eating them. But beginning in the late Meiji era and continuing on into the Taisho era (1911~1926), sushi began to appear in "Yatai"(small mobile restaurants). These yatai at the time took in tuna just because it was so cheap; in fact, most of the time it was free. They took this cheap fish and popularized it by selling it as sushi at very reasonable prices. Today tuna is considered the highest in quality and price out of all fish in all sushi restaurants.

By 1858, Nigiri sushi’s popularity exceeded that of Kansai's "hako sushi", and eventually, beginning in the Meiji era and continuing into the Taisho era, Kansai's hako sushi and Kanto's Nigiri sushi steadily became rivals with one another. There was always fierce debate and competition to see which style was better. Much later, after World War II, sushi, which at the time was not a common meal, rose in popularity again. It rapidly revived business at fish markets throughout the country, and sushi restaurants began appearing in numbers that had never been seen before the war.