How to Shape an Onigiri

How to Shape an Onigiri?: Three Ways You Need to Achieve A Perfect Shape

There's nothing most popular and most-loved snack in Japan than the Japanese rice balls. Or better known as Onigiri. And what makes this fun snack more fun to grab is its shape which has a perfect quick-bite size. Indeed, the best way to have if you're always on the go.

If you are into these heavenly stuffed Onigiri rice balls with a variety of flavors and fillings, then you're in the right place! In this article, we will teach you how to achieve the most perfectly-shaped Japanese rice balls and what are the ways to achieve them!

Traditional Japanese Rice Balls | Photo via

Onigiri is more than just a Japanese rice ball

Onigiri (also known as Omusubi) are Japanese rice balls made from steamed or cooked sushi rice, furikake seasoning, sometimes with tasty fillings inside, and wrapped in a nori seaweed sheet. These rice balls are compressed into different shapes such as triangular, ball, and cylinder. For the flavorings, they can be flavored lightly using salt or other flavors and seasonings, depending on your liking.

In Japan, Onigiri is adored by all ages. Whether older or younger generation, Onigiri is a go-to snack for everyone as they eat rice balls on a daily basis. It's like the idea of energy bars in Japan because Onigiri can be eaten for work and school lunches, outdoor activities and events, and at-home snacks.

These Japanese rice balls are literary everywhere, giving you the option to make them at home or buy them at any convenience stores, coffee shops, airports and stations, and many more.

Onigiri wrapped in seaweed sheet | Photo via

The relationship between Onigiri and Japanese culture

Talking about history, Onigiri is one of the first traveling foods that Japanese people had. Even before the existence of refrigeration, Onigiri balls were already there as a means to preserve freshly cooked rice longer so travelers or soldiers on the road can have them. The first and oldest method was to fill the cooked Japanese short-grain rice with salty or sour ingredients. They served as natural preservatives so the rice balls can be consumed for a longer time. These Japanese rice balls were put in a portable food that can be carried along and eaten with hands.

In today's era, you can find these Japanese rice balls in different forms and recipes, but the basics of making the original Onigiri Japanese rice ball remain the same. If you're into anime or manga, you've most likely seen these Onigiri rice balls in different scenes, highlighting their significance of it in the culture of Japan.

Japanese rice balls | Photo via

One of the examples is the scene in Spirited Away, where Haku offered Chihiro an Onigiri rice ball as a way to comfort her. In the scene, the young girl took a bite of the rice ball until tears started falling from her cheeks. That emotional scene tells the powerful connection or relationship between food and what coming back home feels like. Indeed, Onigiri is more than just a rice ball it means a lot to Japanese people.

What makes an Onigiri?

The basic ingredients of Onigiri are just two - freshly cooked sushi rice and good quality nori seaweed. For the rice, you can use Japanese short-grain rice or commonly labeled as sushi rice. It has the perfect chewy, tender, and slightly sticky texture. You may also want to ask, is it okay to use brown rice? If you want to use brown rice, you need to find Japanese-short grain brown rice as well. It has the same sticky texture as the white does, but it can be so hard to find. Plus, it needs 2-3 hours of soaking time compared to the common Japanese short-grain rice that you can easily prep in a rice cooker.

Meanwhile, for the nori seaweed, you can use the ones available in well-stocked grocery stores. These nori seaweed sheets are also the same seaweed wrappers to wrap sushi.

Onigiri rice seasoning and nori sheets | Photo via

For Onigiri filling, there are varieties and Onigiri traditional fillings that you can also include in your Japanese rice balls. Check the following examples below:

  • shake (pronounced as sha-keh) - salted salmon

  • umeboshi filling - Japanese pickled plums

  • okaka - bonito flakes moistened with soy sauce

  • kombu - simmered kombu seaweed

  • tuna mayo - canned tuna with Japanese mayonnaise

  • tarako - salty cod roe

  • furikake - rice seasonings

  • also, you can also use your leftovers as Onigiri fillings for a different Onigiri recipe.

Japanese Rice Balls | Photo via
What are the ways to shape Onigiri rice balls?

Now, the most important part of making Onigiri is the shaping part. This is where all the efforts you make will finally be seen in reality once you already have the perfect triangle-shaped Onigiri or whatever shape you want it to be. Here are the three ways to shape your Japanese rice balls.

  1. Shape using your hands.

The simplest method to shape an Onigiri Japanese rice ball is by using your hands. You don't need extra equipment for this, plus, you can try to make different sizes. You can start by preparing a small station or space to have your cooked rice, a bowl of cold water, and a small dish of salt ready. Secondly, make sure to wash your hands carefully in the icy water for about 15 to 20 seconds.

Shaping Onigiri by hands | Photo via

Step three is to rub two pinches of salt over your palms as you pick up a small handful of rice. If you're adding a filling, make a flat rice on your hands and place the fillings in the middle before folding the rice and shaping it. Finish the shaping by cupping your hand and pushing the rice into your folded palm. Keep pressing and turning until your rice ball is firmed and finally holding its shape. For the finished look, add some nori sheets or sprinkle the rice ball with some sesame seeds.


Another common way to shape an Onigiri is by using plastic wrap. Using plastic wrap has some benefits such as it's a mess-free method, hygienic, and you can reuse the plastic and wrap it for later's use. First, start by breaking off a piece of plastic wrap and laying it on a flat surface. Then, sprinkle some pinches of salt on the plastic wrap and place the rice in the middle. Again, if you're adding a filling, make a flat rice first using rice paddle and add your fillings in the middle part of the rice before moving on to the shaping part.

Once you're ready to shape the rice, wrap the rice up and cup your hand. Push the rice into your folded palm, then turn the wrapped rice ball and push again until it holds its shape. Repeat the steps using the same plastic wrap for the rest of your Japanese rice balls.


Using a plastic mold

For an easy way to wrap Onigiri without using too much of your hands, Onigiri molds are here to save you. First is a plastic mold. They usually come in two or three sizes and especially great for when you're adding fillings. These plastic molds are perfect if you want a consistency in size and shape. For step one, mix the salt and rice or you can also add rice vinegar for more consistency of the rice. Second, push the rice into the mold for about 2/3 of the way up. If you're adding the filling, add half of the rice first and put your fillings before adding another half of the rice.

Once all settled into the mold, place the lid firmly down and then take it off and you have your well-shaped Onigiri rice balls!

Onigiri Plastic Mold | Photo via

Using a wooden Onigiri mold

Another Onigiri mold to shape your Japanese rice balls is the wooden Onigiri mold. It's a bit more old-fashioned, but a lot sturdier compared to plastic mold. When using it at first, you need to soak it in warm water for 10 minutes to prevent the rice from sticking. Then start mixing your rice with salt or rice vinegar before putting it into the mold.

If you're adding a filling, add the fillings in the first half of your rice in the middle before topping it with the other half. Once molded, take off the rice balls by gently pressing them out of the wooden mold and repeat the steps for the rest of your rice balls.

Onigiri Wooden Mold | Photo via

Onigiri Experience Set by Japan Crate Experiences Edition

Onigiri Experience Set

Whether you're a traveler or a stay-at-home kind of person and want to try making Onigiri and trying it for the first time, this Onigiri Experience Set is the perfect one for you! You can now start exploring a variety of Onigiri fillings and flavors by having the right set to shape your Onigiri. Also, this is one of the best activities for your family or friends' activities who are into making rice balls and embracing Japanese culture. Moreover, learning how to make Onigiri can also help you in future gatherings where you can serve this delicious go-to snacks that everyone can enjoy.

The Onigiri Experience Set includes instant rice, rice mold, filling, condiment, furikake seasoning, and seaweed wrap. Indeed, we make it easier for you to start your first making Japanese rice balls journey in the comfort of your home!

Onigiri in Japan


There's always fun in making different Japanese rice ball shapes. Shaping an Onigiri is what gives you the final look at what you've been preparing from the start. This includes prepping the ingredients, cooking the rice and other fillings, mixing them together, and finally molding them for a better shape. The process seems easy, but it's definitely letting you make or prepare food with so much love and care because every step requires a great amount of dedication.

No matter what shapes you end up making your Onigiri recipes with, the bottom line is how you're able to make such food while embracing art and culture, as well as the traditions of Japan. You can also try incorporating your culture by adding your own staple food (depending on where you live) into the fillings and creating a new variety of Onigiri. The fun in creating the Japanese rice balls is you have the freedom to choose what to include that will totally suit your liking to taste.

Experiences by Japan Crate is here to let you experience all those things while you enjoy making Onigiri. Plus, we offer free shipping on all orders with no subscription needed! Visit our website today and shop now!



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