The Japanese Folktales and History Behind Three Popular Types of Sushi

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Sushi is one of the most iconic staples in Japanese cuisine. There are many reasons why it is so popular. Sushi may look easy to make, but it takes years of practice just to get it right. It’s hard to picture the country without the people feasting on really good sushi. There are so many pieces of sushi to choose from too. Everyone has their favorite type. However, there is so much more to sushi than a popular treat that you can eat at a party. Just like everything else in Japan, there are folktales and history around sushi. That goes double for the three most popular types of sushi.

You don’t have to find a sushi place to hear those stories. What is so special about inarizushi, maguromaki, and kappamaki that people will go out to a sushi bar and delivery just to score them? Well, we are here to go beyond sushi order to find out. Sit back and let us tell you all about the folktales and history behind these pieces of sushi. You might feel smarter the next time you visit sushi places around here.

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One of most popular foods in the world is sushi. While the simple, delicious dish of seemingly endless varieties is recognized as one of the world’s top cuisines today, it originated as a street food during the Asuka or Nara periods of Japanese history, sometime in the eighth century. Today, sushi is sold in many different forms in the best sushi restaurants across the world. According to IBIS World, the sushi industry in the U.S. alone generates over $2 billion a year.

Many assume that sushi was first created by accident, like cheese and beer. However, as any good restaurants selling sushi can tell you, sushi may have been born of divine intervention. As you will see, sushi rice and the many iterations of this Japanese staple built upon it were inspired by folklore and history.

What About the Rice Itself?
Tori Avey of PBS Food writes of the mythical origins of sushi rice. Legend holds that an old woman began hiding her rice in the nests of ocean birds to guard it against thieves. After retrieving her rice, the old woman found that pieces of fish had fallen from the birds’ mouths into the newly fermented rice. Not only did the fermented rice help keep the fish fresh, it also had a wonderful flavor. They Call Me an Egg, a Japanese food and culture blog, writes that this fermented rice, not the fish or any other added ingredient, is what defines sushi. Imagine, it may have all been due to paranoia and a messy bird!

Three Popular Types of Sushi Inspired by Folklore and History

  • The Fox-faced Tale of Inarizushi
  • Any sushi restaurants labeling themselves as “good restaurants” will serve inarizushi. As written on, Inari is the god of rice in the Shinto religion. In the case of this classic sushi served at top sushi restaurants around the world, inari refers to a sweetened, fried tofu skin that is then stuffed with seasoned rice. As the god of rice, Inari was constantly filling itself with the grain, inspiring this favorite.

  • The Ever-Patriotic Maguromaki
  • Maguromaki, maguro meaning tuna and maki meaning roll, is one of the touchstone types of sushi found at all good restaurants. Like inarizushi, this type was inspired by Japanese history. If you were to look at a piece of maguromaki from above, you’d notice that it looks like the Japanese flag. As with the flag, the red dot represents the rising sun, according to If you’re familiar with Japanese history, you’ll remember that the country is often called the Land of the Rising Sun, denoting the idea that the world begins anew with Japan.

  • The Mischevious Kappamaki
  • As written in the Encyclopedia Britannica, there is a small, reptilian demon in Japanese folklore known as a kappa. The creature, resembling a scaly monkey, is known to love cucumbers, hence the creation of kappamaki, a type of sushi that features cucumber as an accent to the rice. Not only does kappamaki have one of the best stories of any sushi, it’s also a favorite among vegetarians.

The next time you visit your local sushi restaurants, keep these stories in mind. They make great conversation, and you might even be able to teach your sushi chef a thing or two! Check out this site for more.