Aji (Maaji) Sushi
Japanese horse mackerel

maaji sushi

What is Māji (Aji) マアジ 【鯵】?

The Japanese horse mackerel or Japanese jack mackerel is called maaji in Japanese, which is translated as “true horse mackerel”. In addition to sushi and sashimi, maaji is used in numerous Japanese dishes and is considered one of the most popular edible fish in Japan. If you find aji (アジ) on the Japanese menu or presented in the neta box of a sushi bar, it is usually maaji or sometimes chiri-maaji.

Māji as an Ingredient for Sushi and Sashimi

Maaji is a popular dish and belongs to the most important commercial fish species worldwide. The meat is soft, pink and very fatty. The garnish is either ginger (gari, ガリ) or spring onion (negi, ). In upscale sushi restaurants, freshly grated ginger is usually added between the rice and the meat.

Ki-māji and Kuro-māji

In Japan a distinction is made between the yellowish ki-maaji and the dark kuro-maaji. The yellow variety is less migratory and remains predominantly in coastal areas and bays. Since ki-maaji therefore has to expend less energy for migrations, they are more greasy, wider and larger than kuro-maaji. Due to the fact that kuro-maaji continues to live in the sea, it is more easily accessible for industrial fishing and therefore represents the greater part of the catch. Ki-aji from the southern bay of Tokyo are particularly popular in Japan upscale cuisine, as they are caught by hand and in small quantities. The bay has a large supply of plankton and is therefore rich in food, which is important for the growth of ki-aji.

Regional brands

A map showing the origin of Japanese regional brands of horse mackerel (aji).
Overview of the regions from which the regional mackerel (saba) brands originate.

In Japan, several regional brands of maaji mackerel exist. Among them, Maaji fished in the narrows of the Bungo Channel (sekiaji, 関あじ) and those caught off the west coast of Shimane Prefecture (don chitchi aji, どんちっちアジ) are considered especially popular (OFCSB, 2015. HCMIE, 2019).

Best Season

Maaji tastes delicious all year round, but it is said to be most tasty from May to July. During this time the fish begin to build up increased fat reserves for the spawning season in autumn. In contrast to late summer, the fatty tissue is in perfect balance during this time. They are neither too lean nor too fat and are therefore remarkably tasty. In Japanese the word aji (味、あじ) also means taste. So it is not far to believe that the fish was given this name because it is so tasteful.

Today, maaji is mostly used as a raw ingredient, although pickled in a vinegar-salt solution (sujime, 酢じめ), it is also very delicious. Using the sujime method adds to the already tasty meat an additional refreshing aftertaste.

Characteristics & Ecology

On average maaji reaches a size of 35 cm, single species can reach a size of up to 50 cm. Their main food source are mainly small crustaceans and smaller fish. Usually they are found in depths from 50 to 275 m. Usually they are found in depths from 50 to 275m.


Maaji is of high commercial importance and is mainly caught in trawls, purse seines and pots.

The diagram shows the progress of the annual production figures of maaji in the period from 1950 to 2018.
  1. The worldwide production (catch and aquaculture) of Japanese horse mackerel in 2018 was 189,376 tons according to FAO. Japan's share (118,700 t) represents about 62% of the world total. In 1998 the share was still about 91%.
  2. Migratory species are species that migrate from one region to another at different times of the year. They migrate due to seasonal restrictions that affect for example food or temperature.


© 寿司マスターToshi. 寿司職人によるアジの仕込みから握りまで〜How To Make Horse mackerel Sushi〜. 2018-09-21, youTube.com



For copyright and author information, see the "Image Credits" section.

Native Range

Source: Kaschner, K., K. Kesner-Reyes, C. Garilao, J. Segschneider, J. Rius-Barile, T. Rees, and R. Froese. 2019. AquaMaps, Scarponi, P., G. Coro, and P. Pagano. A collection of Aquamaps native layers in NetCDF format.


As a general rule, do not eat ingredients that are not explicitly labeled for raw consumption.

The naturally have high levels of enzymes causes the meat to let it rot quickly. It is therefore essential to maintain an appropriate cold chain until prompt processing. Histamine is not destroyed by normal cooking temperatures, so even properly cooked fish can still result in poisoning.

References & further reading

  • [FAO 2019]: Fishery and Aquaculture Statistics, Statistiques des pêches et de l’aquaculture, Estadísticas de pesca y acuicultura 2017. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome. 2019
  • [Froese & Daniel, 2019]: Rainer Froese, Pauly Daniel. FishBase. The Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of Kiel, FishBase.org. 2019. Retrieved online on: December 24, 2020
  • [Fujiwara, 2020]: Masataka Fujiwara 昌髙藤原. Bozu Konyaku's Market Fish and Shellfish Book ぼうずコンニャクの市場魚貝類図鑑. Bozu Konnyaku Co., Ltd., Tokyo ぼうずコンニャク株式会社東京, zukan-bouz.com. 2020
  • [HCMIE, 2019]: Hamada's Fishery Brand “Don-Chicchi“ - Don-Chicchi Horse Mackerel (浜田の水産ブランド“どんちっち”~どんちっちアジ). Hamada City Ministry of Industry and Economy Fisheries Promotion Division (浜田市 産業経済部 水産振興課). 2019. Retrieved online on: February 16, 2021: https://www.city.hamada.shimane.jp/www/contents/1001000002251/index.html
  • [Mouritsen, 2006]: Ole G. Mouritsen. Sushi: Food for the Eye, the Body and the Soul. Jepsen & Co, Copenhagen. 2006
  • [OFCSB, 2015]: Saganoseki brand: There's a reason why “Seki“ is in the brand name (佐賀関ブランド:ブランド名に”関”がつくには理由がある). Oita Fisheries Cooperative Saganoseki Branch (大分県漁業協同組合 佐賀関支店). 2015. Retrieved online on: February 16, 2021: http://sekiajisekisaba.or.jp/brand/
  • [Wakimoto, 2020]: Tetsurō Wakimoto (哲朗脇本 ). Why Tokyo Bay's "golden horse mackerel" in early summer is so delicious: The price is sometimes the same as that of nodoguro. (初夏の東京湾『金アジ』が絶品の理由 ノドグロと同等の価格になることも). tsurinews.jp, TSURINEWS 編集部, Tokyo. 2020. https://tsurinews.jp/108459/

Image credits



Drawn illustration for  maaji

Common names

greenback horse mackerel, greenback horse mackerel, japanese scad, japanese jack mackerel, japanese horse mackerel

Japanese names

  • kiaji (キアジ)
  • kin'aji (キンアジ)
  • kuroaji (クロアジ)
  • ma-aji (マーアジ)
  • maaji (マアジ)
  • māji (māジ)

木鯵, 鯵, 黒鯵

Scientific name

Trachurus japonicus




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