A dish known as narezushi (馴れ寿司, 熟寿司 – "salted fish"), stored in fermented rice for possibly months at a time, would later influence the application of rice on Japanese raw fish. The lacto-fermentation of the rice prevents the fish from spoiling; the rice would be discarded before consumption of the fish. The fish was fermented with rice vinegar, salt and rice, after which the rice was discarded, the process can be traced back to the early domestication of rice in the neolithic cultures of China. After rainy seasons, the lakes and rivers would flood and the fish would get caught in the rice paddy fields, pickling was a way to preserve the excess fish and guaranteeing food for the next months. Similar techniques of pickling carrying other names can be found among Southeast Asian, Korean and Chinese rice farmers. Narezushi became an important source of protein for Japanese consumers and it overlaps with the introduction of wet-field rice cultivation during the Yayoi period. The term sushi literally means "sour-tasting" and comes from an antiquated し (shi) terminal-form conjugation, 酸し sushi, no longer used in other contexts, of the adjectival verb 酸い sui "to be sour"; the overall dish has a sour and umami or savoury taste. Narezushi still exists as a regional specialty, notably as funa-zushi from Shiga Prefecture.
Osaka-style sushi, also called "Oshi-zushi" or "hako-sushi"
Vinegar began to be added to the preparation of narezushi in the Muromachi period (1336–1573) for the sake of enhancing both taste and preservation. In addition to increasing the sourness of the rice, the vinegar significantly increased the dish's longevity, causing the fermentation process to be shortened and eventually abandoned. The primitive sushi would be further developed in Osaka, where over several centuries it became oshi-zushi or "hako-zushi"; in this preparation, the seafood and rice were pressed into shape with wooden (typically bamboo) molds.
It was not until the Edo period (1603–1868) that fresh fish was served over vinegared rice and nori. The particular style of today's nigirizushi became popular in Edo (contemporary Tokyo) in the 1820s or 1830s. One common story of nigirizushi's origins is of the chef Hanaya Yohei (1799–1858), who invented or perfected the technique in 1824 at his shop in Ryōgoku. The dish was originally termed Edomae zushi as it used freshly caught fish from the Edo-mae (Edo or Tokyo Bay); the term Edomae nigirizushi is still used today as a by-word for quality sushi, regardless of its ingredients' origins.
The earliest written mention of sushi in English described in the Oxford English Dictionary is in an 1893 book, A Japanese Interior, where it mentions sushi as "a roll of cold rice with fish, sea-weed, or some other flavoring". There is an earlier mention of sushi in James Hepburn's Japanese-English dictionary from 1873, and an 1879 article on Japanese cookery in the journal Notes and Queries.