It is made of sweet or salty-sweet boiled aburaage, which is opened into the shape of a bag and stuffed with sushi rice (vinegared rice) or sushi rice mixed with ingredients like carrots and mushrooms. In some cases, it is stuffed with 'chirashizushi', rice with more ingredients. It is formed into a square modeling a komedawara (bag of rice).
A boxed lunch that consists of a combination of inarizushi and norimaki (rolled sushi in dried laver seaweed) is called Sukeroku-zushi. This name is taken from the hero's name in a Kabuki 'juhachiban' play, 'Sukeroku yukarino Edozakura' (Sukeroku, Flower of Edo), and because the name of Sukeroku's mistress is Agemaki, the sushi of a combination of aburaage (age) and norimaki (maki) was so named as a pun.
Inarizushi of various areas
The inarizushi called 'Shoten-zushi' of Kanki-in Temple (Kumagaya City), which is a specialty of Kumagaya City, Saitama Prefecture (former Menuma-machi, Osato-gun), has almost a double diameter of the ordinary one. It is believed that this reflects the shape of inarizushi in the Edo period.
In western Japan, it is usual to call it 'oinari-san', and it is called 'age-zushi' in some cases.
Some elderly people in the Kinki region call it 'shinoda-zushi.'
In western Japan, inarizushi with ingredients like sesame (also called 'gomoku-inari') are prevalent. Sometimes it is tied up with an ingredient like boiled kanpyo (dried gourd shavings) around it. It is considered that the one shaped into a triangular form imitating the ear of a fox is the most common.
The oldest historical document concerning inarizushi is "Morisada manko" (a kind of encyclopedia of folkways and other affairs in the Edo Period written by Morisada KITAGAWA) written in the late Edo period, and it describes it as the following:
In the late Tenpo era (1830 - 1844), a kind of sushi was peddled in Edo (old Tokyo), aburaage opened from one side into the shape of a bag, and stuffed with rice mixed with minced mushrooms and kanpyo. (abbreviation)...it is called inarizushi or shinoda-zushi, both of which are the names relating to a fox, as yakan (another name of fox) is fond of aburaage. This is the cheapest sushi. There has been this sushi in Nagoya and other parts of Owari Province since before this era. This sushi may have also been sold in stores in Edo since before the Tenpo era.
"Tengen-hikki" (a document written in the Meiji period) describes it as being stuffed with rice and tofugara (the material left after making tofu) etc., and eaten with soy sauce and Japanese horseradish, and there is also a comment 'very cheap.'
One of the pictures in "Kinsei-shobaizukushi-kyoka-awase" (collection of comic tanka [kyoka] about all modern businesses) of 1852 portrayed the state of a sushi stall which was selling long inarizushi by the slice that is rarely seen today.
Originally, Inari-shin (the god of the harvest) had not been a fox, but there was a tendency to identify it by a folk belief in the Edo period. It is thought that in this way, it took its name from the traditional belief that the fox who was the messenger of Inari-shin favored aburaage, and it was eaten as the cheapest sushi in Edo and Nagoya in the late Tenpo Era.