How to Open Onigiri, Step-by-Step

Delicious Onigiri
Delicious onigiri

Onigiri, Japanese rice balls, are on about the same level as a rubix cube. I’m sure I wasn’t the first to be baffled about how to open onigiri.

This fact isn’t very well publicized, but the truth is that opening a rice ball is difficult. Even my native Japanese friends admit that they often tear their nori (seaweed). This is even after their 20+ years of experience with convenience store-bought onigiri.

Thus, I’m here to (hopefully!) clear up the mystery that is the way to open onigiri. With illustrations!

Onigiri Instructions

For the first huge hint: Take a look at the bottom of your onigiri. Even if you can’t read Japanese, often diagrams showing how to open onigiri are included. Of course, if it is your first time, this, however, may not be enough. Next, on to the step-by-step!

How to Open Onigiri

1. Acquire your onigiri

Okaka Onigiri
Bonito flake rice ball, called okaka onigiri in Japanese

For this tutorial, I chose one of my favorite and one of the most common flavors of onigiri: okaka. Okaka is basically salmon flakes. Delicious, right?

2. Grab the top tab

Okaka onigiri - open
Step 2

First, take hold of the tab at the top. On this onigiri, this tab is labeled “1” for easy step-by-step unwrapping.

3. Pull down on the top tab

Opening Onigiri Step 3
Step 3

Then, pull down on the top tab. As a result, it should unravel in a nice, simple strip all around the onigiri. See the photo above and below for a visual.

4. Unravel the strip connected to the first tab

Peeling wrapper tab
Step 4

After this, your onigiri should look something like the above photo.

5. Grab the wrapper on one side of the onigiri

Grasping corner wrapper
Step 5

Here, we are getting to the tricky part. If you aren’t careful, you may rip the seaweed surrounding your rice ball. First, lightly grab onto the wrapper on one of the sides of the onigiri, being careful not to grab on to the seaweed as well. The right-hand corner on this onigiri is labeled “2” for easy, step-by-step unwrapping.

6. Lightly pull on the corner

Next, being very careful, pull on the corner you’ve just grabbed. It may help to hold on to the other side of the onigiri with your other hand. Then, if you pull gently with a slightly upward movement, the wrapper on one side of the onigiri should slide off.

7. Grab on to the remaining corner’s wrapper

Pulling off corner wrapper
Step 7

Once you’ve gently slid the wrapper off one corner of the onigiri, grab onto the wrapper on the other side of the onigiri. Moreover, on this onigiri, the last corner is labeled “3” for step-by-step guidance.

8. Gently pull on the last corner to open onigiri

Again, this part is a little tricky. The possibility of tearing the seaweed covering is high, so be careful. Lightly pull on the last part of the wrapper, with a slight upward movement. It may help to hold on to the onigiri with the other hand.

9. Enjoy your open onigiri!

Onigiri Open


At last, you’ve successfully unwrapped your onigiri without putting a single crack in the seaweed.

Now, what will you do to celebrate? Eat your onigiri? Then, buy even more rice balls and show off your unwrapping skills to your friends? The possibilities are endless!

5 thoughts on “How to Open Onigiri, Step-by-Step

  1. A says:

    I think I must be getting weird onigiri. The rice and seaweed are separated by another layer of plastic so it always comes off. How strange.

    1. L. says:

      Haha, yes, this is pretty common! I think it is to keep the seaweed from sticking to the rice and getting soggy. The trick is to remove the corners veeery slowly, pulling straight out instead of at an angle.

      Good luck and good eating 🙂

  2. Zia says:

    haha I remember my first onigiri experience, I felt like a toddler trying to open a juice box. I will be more successfull next time 🙂

    1. L. says:

      Same here! I remember thinking, “I’m an adult, but why can’t I open this?!”


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