We encounter delectable rice balls that could have been made by mom on an island far from Japan’s mainland.

While Amami Oshima is the largest island in the Amami archipelago that’s governed by Kagoshima Prefecture, it’s actually closer to Okinawa than to the Japanese Honshu mainland. The island boasts plenty of gorgeous natural scenery, but there are also plenty of isolated areas without any stores or places to get food, so it’s a good idea to always stock up on plenty of snacks when traveling there.

Speaking of snacks, Amami Oshima is home to a super-local chain of convenience stores called Shimanchu Mart (島人マート), of which there are only five stores in total. It was at the Kasari location that our globetrotting Japanese-language correspondent Ikuna Kamezawa tried what was perhaps the best convenience store onigiri of her life.

▼ The Kasari location is the closest one to Amami Airport, though it would still take about an hour and a half to walk there.
It’s possible to go by bus, but due to the limited schedule, taking a car is by far the most convenient way to get there.

The interior of the store doesn’t seem that much different from other convenience stores.

Since it’s near the ocean, this location stocks some goods for swimming and fishing.

In fact, it sells a wide range of items that are necessary for daily life.

The more Ikuna looked around, the more she was struck by how peculiar the onigiri section seemed. For one, they didn’t appear to sell any “regular” triangle-shaped rice balls. Typical fillings like cod roe were scarce and most of them were crafted in the “onigirazu” style, or onigiri shaped more like sandwiches with sheets of nori enveloping the rice and fillings inside.

She recalled the Okinawan pork and egg onigiri “soul food” that has risen in popularity over the last several years–delectable rice balls with a filling of Spam and fried egg. They go by different names at different stores, but Shimanchu Mart’s name for this version is “luncheon onigiri.”

With those initial observations out of the way, she picked out the six most interesting-looking onigiri and proceeded to the register.

There were some chairs and tables outside where she sat to prepare for her taste test. It’s not too bad of a view when you can see the waves from your friendly neighborhood convenience store!

OK, on to the onigiri round-up. First up were the similarly named “Luncheon Onigiri” (180 yen [US$1.27]) and the “Luncheon” (120 yen).

As previously shared, the Luncheon Onigiri seems to be like the version more commonly known as the Spam and egg onigiri. It’s a thinly cooked omelet paired with a thick and salty cold cut of pork in the middle of homestyle-cooked rice. Ikuna thought that it was absolutely divine.

Meanwhile, the Luncheon was a bit of a mystery at first glance. After peeling back the layers a bit, she discovered that it consisted of a thin strip of pork with a healthy dollop of mayonnaise. The simpler nature of these fillings definitely enhanced the natural flavor of the rice and nori.

Next up were the “Pork and Egg Bomb” (228 yen) and the “Kokko Bomb” (218 yen).

At the end of the day, the former ended up being her favorite out of all of the ones that she sampled.

It was a little bit nerve-wracking to bite into the bright yellow “bomb,” but the fillings turned out to be the same as in the Luncheon Onigiri–with the major difference being that the omelette was encasing the entire outside this time. It was amazing how the same ingredients in different locations seemed to change the onigiri’s overall taste. A hint of tuna mayonnaise also added a nice burst of flavor in the center.

Likewise, the relatively simple Kokko Bomb (with “kokko” referring to the “cluck” of a chicken) consisted of an outer omelette casing filled with katsuobushi gohan (rice cooked with dried bonito flakes). When she bit into it, Ikuna somehow experienced a feeling of nostalgia. She then and there decided that pretty much anything would be delicious if it were wrapped in an omelette.

There were only two more onigiri to round off the list. Now, ordinarily Ikuna would never buy something like the “Fried Chicken Tuna Mayo Bomb” (228 yen), but she even gobbled that one up right away.

Last but not least, the basic “Salmon Onigiri” (120 yen) reaffirmed once and for all Shimanchu Mart’s ability to craft onigiri of the most delicious variety.

So what about the onigiri made them possibly the best convenience store ones that Ikuna had ever tasted? To put it simply, they didn’t taste like convenience store onigiri at all. She doesn’t mean that typical convenience store ones taste bad, either–just that they definitely seem like they’re made by a machine and not a living person. In contrast, she could have mistaken the ones from Shimanchu Mart for ones made by her mother. They weren’t incredibly tightly packed and hadn’t been in the refrigerator, so everything about them screamed “fresh.” They just seemed to be full of unconditional love, too.

For now, Ikuna will continue enjoying the special Amami onigiri while she’s on the island, but she may need this onigiri warmer device for when she returns to the office in Tokyo.

Reference: Shimanchu Mart
All images © SoraNews24
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
[ Read in Japanese ]