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It was originally called funazushi and (under this name) was a method of preserving fish by putting rice inside the gutted body. As time progressed, this rice was also eaten, and its flavour became more important, and by the 17th century, vinegar was being added.
But it wasn"t until Hanaya Yohei put raw fish on this rice that the sushi which should strictly-speaking be called nigirizushi arrived. See 'Wasabi'; "Japan; for in"; " Sashimi".