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Decorative Makizushi Rolls Add Color to Festive Occasions

The Yomiui Shimbun
Kazari makizushi featuring classic patterns, including shikai (four oceans), left, and kikusui (chrysanthemum floating on flowing water), at front

Kazari makizushi sushi rolls add a dash of color to festive occasions, including school entrance and graduation ceremonies, with their designs of flowers, geometric shapes and other motifs. They’re both fun to prepare and pleasing to the eye.

Originating in Edo (now Tokyo), makizushi has been made throughout Japan, with its fillings and appearance evolving over time. One of the most famous forms of kazari makizushi is futomaki thick sushi rolls, a local specialty of Chiba Prefecture. These traditions have changed over the years, and the expressive range of sushi rolls has expanded.

“You can use a wide range of designs, from classic patterns to cute characters. It’s fun to make them,” said Chacha Tsubaki, a kazari sushi artist.

The basic method for making kazari makizushi involves coloring sushi rice by mixing the vinegared rice with red shiso leaf sprinkles or sakura denbu sweet pink-colored fish topping. The rice is then rolled in sheets of nori seaweed to create various patterns.

A classic sushi roll featuring the shikai (four oceans) pattern is sushi rolled into a square and has curved lines at the four corners, which represent waves. The waves are said to express a wish for a peaceful world where the waves have subsided, so sushi with this pattern is especially popular on celebratory occasions.

Sushi featuring the kikusui pattern, which represents a chrysanthemum flower floating on flowing water, celebrates longevity and is also pleasing to the eye. Bunsen patterned sushi is modeled after an old coin with a square hole and filled with square-shaped ingredients in the center.

“Placing various patterns [on a plate] makes them look more colorful. The way [they are] arranged also changes how they look,” Tsubaki said.

Decorative sushi rolls featuring cute character designs have developed from such classic patterns. Those featuring a rabbit are relatively easy to make — all you need to do is roll colored rice with sheets of nori and decorate it with pieces of seaweed to make a face.

Various characters such as bears, pigs and penguins can be also made depending on your creativity. When served on a platter, they should make everyone smile. Such rolled sushi will delight children’s hearts when they open their lunch boxes.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kazari makizushi in a bento box

The use of makizushi has expanded further, and Tsubaki has even published a “picture book” on YouTube in which she uses makizushi to express her story.

“It may look difficult, but once you get used to it, you’ll be able to create various patterns and designs,” said Tsubaki.

How to make a plum blossom

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kazari makizushi modeled after plum blossoms.

Tsubaki shares how to make makizushi resembling a plum blossom. First, mix 100 grams of sushi vinegared rice with sakura denbu to turn it pink.

Next, prepare two sheets of nori, which are typically 19×21 centimeters. Cut both of them in half so that you have four sheets measuring about 19×10 centimeters. Then, cut two of those sheets into thirds to get six smaller pieces measuring about 10×6 centimeters. (One large piece and one small piece will be left over.)

Divide the sushi rice into five equal portions. Shape each into an approximately 10-centimeter-long stick.

Place a small piece of nori onto a makisu sushi mat, parallel to the mat’s bamboo strips. Place a stick of rice on top of the nori, near your side. Roll it up away from you.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Making plum blossom makizushi

You should now have a small sushi roll that is about 10 centimeters long and less than 2 centimeters thick. Crush about two grains of rice to make a paste to seal the roll. Make five of these small rolls.

Place three of them on the makisu mat, holding it as shown in the photo. Place a 10-centimeter-long stick of cheese in the center of these rolls, and put the remaining two sushi rolls on top. Bind this bundle together by rolling it tightly in the mat.

Wrap a 19×10-centimeter nori sheet around the bundle. Cut it into slices with a very sharp knife to reveal the flower-shaped cross section.