What are the origins of the kanji for sushi?

Photo credit: Yumi Kimura / CC licence

The kanji writings 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

The name sushi comes from 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.

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.

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