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Sushi History

Chronology, origin and genealogy

The time line of sushi in Japan is not all clear yet unfortunately.
A chronological chart could be summarized as below.

Sushi sample pictures
[ Sushi sample pictures ]

Chronology of sushi in Japan:

Year Japan China
Sushi Type Example Preparation time  Preparation and 'Meaning'
B.C. 300       (Rice cultivation started - introduction from the south part of China.) {Chin}
200         {Han}
Salted fish guts

[Ki / Shi]
A.D. 100         Stored fish
[Sa], [Kin]
200         Carp sushi
700 Nare-zushi Funa-zushi
(The Origin)
1 - 3 year(s) Salted fish and cooked rice are multi-layered in a bucket and stored under stone weight and water to be fully 'fermented' without the air.  Only the fish is eaten principally. {Tang}
Sturgeon sushi
1500 Nama-nare
Ayu-zushi 1 month Semi-fermented (yet still half 'raw') under stone weight.  Sweet fish ('ayu') was very common.  Rice part was also eaten. {Ming}
Carp sushi (Nama-nare)
: Ii-zushi Suzume-zushi
[Image link: Sushiman]
Days Cooked 'rice' was fully stuffed into inside of carp as looks like a sparrow ('suzume') and pressed under stone weight.  The rice part was also eaten as the main.
1600 Haya-zushi Saba-zushi
[Image link: Izuu]
1 night Rice was vinegared and pressed with seasoned fish under weight and it could be eaten 'earl(y)ier' than ever.
   1700 Hako-zushi Kokera-zushi Hour(s) In a wooden frame-'box,' thinly sliced fish chips ('kokera') are placed over rice and just pressed only by a board and hands.  Cut into small rectangular pieces to eat.
< Typical for 'Osaka-zushi' style. >
«Almost disappeared»
1800 Nigiri-zushi Nigiri-zushi A few seconds Sliced raw fish (sashimi) and vinegared rice (Shari) ball are 'hand formed' together at once.
< Also called as 'Edo-mae' (Tokyo) style. Edomae-zushi >
(Hanaya Yohei, How to Make Nigiri)
«Extinct, in China»
2000 Kawari-zushi California rolls, etc. : With 'unusual' sushi-dane toppings, diversifying into worldwide.  

The origin of sushi:

Southeast Asia and China:

Southeast AsiaVery similar and sushi-like (Nare-zushi type) foods are still found in Southeast Asian countries (Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, etc.) now, and the plains of the north of Thailand and Myanmar, where people make their living by both rice cultivation and fishery - fishing in rivers and rice paddy fields, could be considered as the birth place of the 'original sushi' from well before Christ, and it disseminated to the south part of China, and Japan consequently.

The original concept of sushi is, by the aid of starchy rice, to preserve those of protein-rich foods, fresh water fish and flesh meat, which were not always obtainable through the dry and rainy seasons.  This kind of preservation method could not be existed without the development of rice cultivation.

Natural fermentation is taken place when fish is kept long with millet or rice, starchy grains, and the generated lactic acid prevents from rotting.  But in a long storage time, the rice part gets too soppy to eat and it was abandoned as a waste after all.

By getting well-off, people did not need a long storage period for preservation and also utilized the 'precious' rice part, then sushi became a dish to eat both the rice part and fish, in still semi-raw, together (Nama-nare type.)

In those countries, sushi has not much changed or improved its basic style till now, further it had completely disappeared in China by ca. 1800 eventually as the fact.


It does not exactly known still now when and how sushi came to Japan.  The first evidence concerning sushi in Japan is found in an old law document, Taiho-Ritsuryo (701/718) that referred awabi (abalone) and igai (mussel/moule) in Nare-zushi type.  As in the rice cultivating country, sushi in Japan has much relation with rice and it has been integrated into today's splendid Nigiri-zushi type, and still been changing its style continuously in the world.


Genealogy of sushi and varieties of local sushi in Japan.
[Sushi Link: Links to pictures of local sushi specialties all over Japan. Japanese]
Sushi genealogy
Type/Example Meaning
Nare-zushi Fermented
     Funa-zushi Crucian carp
Nama-nare Semi-fermented and raw
Young gizzard shad
I-zushi (Adding malted rice to aid the fermentation)
Sand fish
Uncut and full-figure
Sweet fish
Carp stuffed like a sparrow
Ii-zushi Rice
Thin chips
Unohana-zushi Bean curd residue is used instead of rice
(Specific name)
(Specific name)
Kata-iri gomoku Mixed in frame
     Oomura-zushi (Minced ingredients)
Nigiri-zushi Hand forming
Mixed ingredients
Spread over
Maki-zushi Roll
Kawari-zushi Unusual
Wrapped with fried bean curd
     Mebari-zushi (Specific name)
SHINODA, Osamu. Sushi no hon (Book of Sushi), 1970.06.25/1993.03.15,
Shibata Shoten, ISBN: 438835189X, p.26 (Out of print Japanese)
ibid. __. __, 2002.11.01, Iwanami Shoten, ISBN: 4006030703 (Available Japanese)

Map of Japan

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Updated on: 2007.03.04
Created on: 2003.06.05
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