If you have ever been to Japan before, or you are into Manga and Anime, chances are high you know what an Onigiri is.
It’s a rice ball.
An often triangle-shaped ball of rice filled with a wide variety of popular Japanese ingredients such as Umeboshi (pickled plum), tuna with mayonnaise, grilled salmon, or fish roe.
The finished ball is then wrapped with a sheet of Nori (dried seaweed).
You can find Onigiri everywhere in Japan. At supermarkets, convenience stores, Bento shops, train stations and even in many restaurants and Izakaya as a side dish.
If you have never tried Onigiri I highly recommend it. My favorite flavor is salmon. Try to find yours.
What are Tenmusu
From Nagoya originated one special kind of Onigiri, called a Tenmusu. Tenmusu is only half as big as a standard Onigiri, filled with a single shrimp Tempura (a deep-fried shrimp), and wrapped in Nori. The shrimp typically protrudes from the top of the riceball.
The rice isn’t flavored, but the saltiness of the seaweed and the Tempura give it just a perfect rounded taste. Tenmusu is typically served with Kyarabuki, butterbur stalks cooked in soy sauce.
Origin of Tenmusu
While Tenmusu is famous for being a Nagoya Meshi, it actually originated in Tsu city, in Mie prefecture about 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Nagoya.
Let me tell you the story…
There once was a husband and wife who ran a Tempura shop. That was a long time ago, sometime in the 1930s. The business was going great and so the husband and wife were busy every day serving customers their delicious Tempura. The downside of their success was that there was barely any time to prepare or eat lunch.
One day, the wife whipped together a quick bite for her husband made from the things she could easily get her hands on in the Tempura shop. She filled a rice ball with shrimp tempura and wrapped it in a sheet of Nori. And thus the Tenmusu was born.
In the years to come, the Tenmusu was being served as a meal for employees, later as a popular secrete menu item only the patrons would know to order, before finding its way on the official menu.
The name of that Tempura restaurant in Tsu was Senju, and it still exists today, they are not a Tempura place anymore, but rather a Tenmusu specialty store serving Tenmusu as their main menu item.
If you ever happen to be in Tsu, you can visit the original Senju. You can either eat at the counter and order a set of Tenmusu, or take a set home with you.
So, how did the Tenmusu come to Nagoya?
In the 1980s there was another husband and wife. They were from Nagoya and owned a watch shop. But unfortunately business wasn’t going so well and they had to close down their shop due to the economic recession.
The wife was trying to figure out a way to support the family when she remembered the delicious Tenmusu she had tried at Senju in Tsu city.
She thought to herself ‘wouldn’t it be great if I could sell these delicious Tenmusu in Nagoya, I am sure they would be popular here as well’.
And so she went to Tsu and asked the wife there if she would share her Tenmusu recipe. As you can maybe imagine, she got promptly rejected.
This could have been the end of the Tenmusu in Nagoya, but the wife from Nagoya wasn’t ready to give up just yet. She kept visiting Tsu, the Tenmusu restaurant and even the home of the husband and wife in Tsu regularly.
As a result of her persistence and negotiation, the wife from Nagoya got the recipe and permission to start a branch in Nagoya.
And that is how the Tenmusu and the first branch of Senju came to Nagoya.
But the wife from Nagoya wasn’t satisfied with this win. She was a very business-oriented woman, as you might have guessed already.
With the help of TV features and celebrities, she got the name out about this new creation. This way Tenmusu became famous as a Nagoya specialty and today it is a staple associated with Nagoya only.
Meaning of Tenmusu
By the way, if you were wondering what Tenmusu means, it basically means Tempura rice ball. With the Ten at the beginning coming from Tempura and the Musu coming from the word Omusubi, another word for Onigiri.
Because the Japanese are lazy and want to shorten everything Tempura Omusubi became Tenmusu.
Where to try Tenmusu in Nagoya
Because of its popularity, you can find many places that sell Tenmusu nowadays. But there are two restaurants that are specialized in Tenmusu only. There is, of course, Senju the original Tenmusu restaurant. The other one is called Jiraya.
If you don’t know to look for it you would probably walk past the original Tenmusu restaurant in Nagoya.
Located in Osu district it is an oldfashioned restaurant with a single sign (all in Japanese, obviously) and so a foreigner cannot even say for sure what kind of a shop it is.
Inside is just one room. With two tables and some benches and one counter to place orders.
Most customers come here for takeout, but between 12 and 2 p.m. you can enjoy your freshly made Tenmusu inside the shop.
There is just one menu item so there is no need to order anything really. One of the ladies working at Senju will promptly produce a tray with 5 Tenmusu some Kyarabuki and a cup of tea.
The Tenmusu are still steaming hot, so be careful not to burn your mouth. But they are delicious. Just the perfect amount of saltiness from the Nori and Tempura.
One serving of 5 Tenmusu cost 756 yen (7 US dollars) which is enough as a light lunch but you can order additional Tenmusu if it wasn’t enough for you.
Opening Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. closed Thursdays and Wednesdays
Address: 4-10-82 Osu, Naka Ward, Nagoya 460-0011
Jiraiya is a specialty Tenmusu shop. They do mainly takeout and even delivery but at some of their shops, they also have spaces to eat in.
The restaurant serves not only the traditional Tenmusu but also some variations. One with black rice and another with mixed rice and mustard leaf pickle.
Their standard order size is 5 Tenmusu, either all original or a mix of the three different variations. One order costs around 400 yen (4 US dollars).
If you want to eat in you can order different set menus with Tenmusu as the main dish and other small side dishes like Tsukemono and vegetables but also Kishimen or Tonkatsu. A set will cost you around 800 yen (8 US dollars).
There are 5 Jiraiya in Nagoya. One in the Takashimaya Department Store at Nagoya Station.
In Sakae, there are two shops. One at Mitsukoshi Department Store in Sakae, and the shop I visited at the underground shopping street at Sakae Station.
The other two stores are in the Yagoto Aeon Mall and the main shop is in the middle of nowhere, close to Tokugawa Art Museum (but not really close).
We always try Tenmusu during the daily Nagoya Meshi Food Tour in Nagoya. It is just one of 8 delicious dishes from Nagoya you will get to sample if you participate in a food tour. Check here for more information.
Opening Hours: 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Address: 3-3-512 Sakae, Naka Ward, Nagoya 460-0008
Final Thoughts on Tenmusu
Tenmusu are a great snack for in between. They do taste best fresh and steaming hot, but I wouldn’t turn my nose up at them if I got hungry at night in my hotel room in Nagoya. If you know what I mean.
Senju is located in Osu district, I suggest you check it out during your visit to Nagoya. You can find more things to do in Nagoya here. Or check the complete Nagoya Travel Guide for all necessary information.
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In love with Japan and its amazing food, Lena wants to share her passion with the world. That’s why she started Nagoya Foodie. To teach about Nagoya, her adoptive home online through blog posts and offline through unique food tours.