Mochitsuki: A New Year’s Tradition

Crafts with FamilyOn Sunday, January 5th, celebrate the New Year and the Year of the Horse at our Oshogatsu Family Festival from 11AM to 5PM.

Ring in the New Year with a fun-filled day of arts ‘n crafts, food, exciting cultural activities, and performances! FREE ALL DAY!

One of the traditional Japanese customs that JANM will be celebrating is mochitsuki—the pounding of mochi or rice cakes, which is essential to the “Oshogatsu” or New Year’s celebration.

Kodama Taiko Mochitsuki 4Mochitsuki is an annual custom kept by many Japanese American households and communities. It is traditionally an all-day event which requires many hands, long hours, and physical labor, but is also a time of fellowship and socializing with friends and family.

Mochitsuki usually begins the day before, with the washing of the mochigome (sweet glutinous rice) and is left to soak overnight in large kettles or tubs. Early the next morning the mochigome is ready to be steamed in the seiro—wooden steaming frames. Three or four seiro are stacked one on top of the other and placed over a kettle of boiling water.

Kodama Taiko Mochitsuki 2After the rice is cooked, it is dumped into the usu, or mortar, made from a wood stump, stone or concrete form. The hot cooked rice in the usu is pounded with a kine or wooden mallet. With enthusiasm and force, the mochi is pounded until the mass of rice is smooth and shiny, with no discernible individual grains of rice. An essential participant in the pounding is the person assisting who quickly darts his or her hand into the usu and turns the rice before the next rhythmic pound.

Mochi Samples

The smooth, consistent mass of mochi is turned onto a cloth or paper covered table, already spread with a thin layer of mochiko (sweet rice flour). This makes the sticky mass easier to handle. An adept person pinches off small portions of the steaming hot mochi for others, who quickly form them into flattened bun shapes with their hands. The formed mochi is then set aside to cool and is ready to eat.

Kodama Taiko Mochitsuki 5

 

Be sure to visit JANM on Sunday, January 5th 2014 to watch Kodama Taiko perform their unique Mochitsuki performance at 2:30PM or 4PM. Watch as Kodama Taiko combine the age-old tradition of pounding mochi (sweet rice) with the sounds of taiko. This energetic performance is customary during the Japanese New Year’s Oshogatsu. Then stick around to sample the delicious mochi afterwards!

 

For more information on JANM’s 2014 Oshogatsu Family Festival and the complete schedule, please visit: janm.org/oshogatsufest2014

We hope to see you there!

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Check out these stories about mochitsuki on our Discover Nikkei site:

Mochitsuki Tradition: Mochi Making the Old School Way (San Francisco, CA)
By Soji Kashiwagi

Mochitsuki: Taking the (rice) cake (Michigan)
By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Mochitsuki (Toronto, ON, Canada)
By April Sora

PHOTOS: Celebrating Mochi-Tsuki Mochi Day in Chicago (Chicago, IL)
Chicago Japanese American Historial Society

VIDEO: Mochitsuki at Heart Mountain (Wyoming)
B&W home movie footage of mochitsuki taken at the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming during WWII. From the Naokichi Hashizume Collection at JANM.

Photos by Daryl Kobayashi, Richard Murakami, Russell Kitagawa, Tsuneo Takasugi, and Caronline Jung.

Esther Shin

Esther graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in the Summer of 2013 with a Bachelor's degree in History and a minor degree in Japanese. She was the curatorial intern at JANM for the 2013 Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Internship Program, and has also completed a marketing internship at the museum. Esther currently works as a Development Assistant for JANM.

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