What are the origins of the kanji for sushi?

Photograph: Yumi Kimura
Used under a Creative Commons licence.

Sushi means "vinegared rice". It does not mean "raw fish". The food called sushi in Japan is not a dish of raw fish, but a dish of a kind of rice. Raw fish alone, without rice, is called sashimi. The rice used in sushi, sushi-meshi, is made using rice vinegar [o-su (お酢)] and sugar mixed with cooked rice.

Forms of sushi include chirashi-zushi (散らし寿司), "scattered sushi", maki-zushi (巻寿司), "roll sushi", and edomae (江戸前), balls of rice with a topping. Items commonly used for sushi include seafood, cucumbers, aubergines, and pickled daikon as well as egg omelette (tamago-yaki). Sushi restaurants in Japan also serve such things as ham, avocado, fried chicken, and grilled pork on sushi rice.

Sushi comes from the word sui meaning "acidic", like vinegar, su () in Japanese. The -shi is an adjective ending used with i adjectives (see What is an adjective?) at the end of sentences.

The kanji for sushi, 寿司, 鮨, and 鮓, are ateji (当字) (characters given to a word after it was formed). See also Why do some words have ? for more about ateji

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