Chihiro’s Onigiri: Japanese Rice Balls from Spirited Away

Posted August 4, 2016 by Alison's Wonderland Recipes in Book of the Month Recipes / 4 Comments


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I’m proud to announce the start of a menu I’ve been looking forward to for ages: A STUDIO GHIBLI MENU! For those who are unfamiliar, Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki worked with Studio Ghibli to make films like My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Ponyo. I’ve been a huge Hayao Miyazaki fan for years, so I thought it would be fun to make a menu for his movies! Since it would be impossible to choose just one film, I decided to base each dish after a different movie. Today’s recipe is from Spirited Away!

In the movie, a little girl named Chihiro must work in a sorceress’ spa for magical spirits while attempting to find her enchanted parents (they’ve been transformed into pigs—who may soon be served for dinner to the magical guests!).

When Chihiro becomes overwhelmed and despairs of ever freeing herself and her parents, her friend Haku gives her a Japanese rice ball (called “onigiri”). As she eats, Chihiro calms down and renews her resolve to defeat the sorceress. Though there are lots of significant foods in Spirited Away, I decided to make the onigiri because I love how that tiny act of friendship helped Chihiro when she needed it most.

This onigiri recipe looks just a little different from the one in the film. The rice ball in the movie had no traditional nori wrap and appeared to have no filling, but I wanted to make something a little more special. So I decided to include a nori wrap and some grilled salmon filling. The simple rice, light salmon, and salty roasted nori combine to make the perfect snack. Enjoy!  🙂


Chihiro’s Onigiri

“They don’t remember being human, so look hard. It’s up to you to remember which ones they are.”

— Spirited Away



  • 6 mini sheets of roasted seaweed (also called “nori”)
  • 3/4 cup shredded cooked salmon (I thawed a frozen salmon fillet and cooked it in a skillet with some lemon pepper using the technique from my Simple Seared Salmon post.)
  • 1 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 6 cups cooked sticky rice (I used this brand and this cooking technique to make Japanese sticky rice. NOTE: If you don’t have a ceramic pot, the rice recipe works fine in a regular stockpot.)
  • a triangle shaped cookie cutter (mine was about 3 inches in size)

       Makes 12 rice balls



    1. Start by slicing your nori sheets in half lengthwise. My sheets were 2 ½” x 3 ½”, so in the end I had 12 strips that were 1 ¼” wide. Mix the mayonnaise into your salmon until well coated. Set the salmon mix and nori aside.

    2. NOTE: If you’re using freshly cooked rice, wait until the rice is cool enough to handle. If using cold leftover rice, reheat it in a microwave at 30 second intervals until slightly warm—not hot. I recommend only reheating and using a couple cups of rice at a time, then heating up more when you run out. This way, the rice won’t go cold before you’re finished working with it.
    3. Put the cookie cutter on a flat surface. Place an 8″x8″ sheet of plastic wrap over the cookie cutter and push some of it it down inside so that the inside of the cookie cutter is completely lined with plastic wrap. Scoop approximately 2 tbsp of rice into the bottom of the cutter and press it flat with a plastic spoon or small rubber spatula (the rice won’t stick to the tools as much as it sticks to fingers!). When flattening the rice, push it around so that it reaches right up to the corners of the cutter (add more rice if needed to make sure the bottom is completely coated). Place 1 tsp salmon filling into the middle of the rice, spreading it around just a little, so there will be a little salmon in each bite of rice when you’re finished.

    4. Place a couple more tablespoons of rice on top and flatten out as before. Add a little extra rice if you need more to cover up the salmon. Wrap the plastic tightly over the exposed end of the onigiri and pop it out of the cookie cutter. Firmly wrap any loose ends around the outside of the onigiri. Set aside.

    5. Repeat with remaining rice and salmon until you run out of ingredients (for me, this made 12 rice balls).
    6. Let the onigiri set for 5-10 minutes. If planning to eat them later, place them on a baking sheet and chill until ready to serve (you can reheat them in the microwave inside the plastic wrap for no more than 20-25 seconds—if they get too hot, they can fall apart).
    7. When ready to serve, remove the plastic wrap and press a nori strip around the bottom of each onigiri. The rice should still be sticky enough that the nori adheres with no problems.

      Roasted seaweed might not sound good at first, but the salty, ever-so-slightly-oceany flavor is actually super satisfying. I love it so much that I’ve been known to wrap a whole mini sheet around onigiri so that I can have nori in as many bites as possible. I’ve even seen some versions that are completely encased in nori!
    8. Serve at a spa for magical creatures while brainstorming ideas to save your loved ones.
      I’ve been eating these for breakfast all week. It was really fun while writing this post to watch the clip where Chihiro eats her onigiri and eat mine right along with her! 🙂






Craving more rice? Check out our hasperat wraps!


Hasperat from Star Trek: TNG
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4 responses to “Chihiro’s Onigiri: Japanese Rice Balls from Spirited Away

  1. ladyelasa

    Oooo! Studio Ghibli! I’m so excited about this month’s recipes! I’ve tried my hand at onigiri before, but I’d really like to try it again with salmon filling.

    • I’m glad you’re excited! I’ve been itching to start this menu for AGES. I anticipated having a hard time picking which movie to make a custom tea for, so I’ve already decided to make three, like I did with Star Trek.

  2. Ha! I did get it right! I love Spirited Away; it was the first Miyazaki film I ever watched, and I was so enchanted by it that I’m determined to watch all the Studio Ghibli films.

    • I remember I was SO SCARED of No Face when I first watched Spirited Away…and I was a grownup! ^.^ I’m not sure which one is my favorite these days (for years it was Howl’s Moving Castle, but now I think it may be Kiki’s Delivery Service). But there are still a few I haven’t seen yet, so maybe some day I’ll have a new favorite!

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