Until this year, I have never celebrated Christmas or New Years away from my family. As you might have guessed, figuring out how to celebrate the Christmas Season in Japan was kind of difficult. Now, Christmas was a blast because I was able to Face-time my family and hangout with the American and Canadian students that stayed for the winter break. But, in the back of my mind, I wondered about what I would be doing before New Year’s.
Thankfully though, I remembered that I signed up for a もちつき (Mochitsuki) event to help my Japanese sensei’s local temple. Before coming to the event, I didn’t have the slightest clue as to how “mochi” was made and how important it is for Japanese people. I mean, throughout the holiday season, especially during New Years, Japanese families make various dishes out of “mochi”. Also, “mochi” is one of the main dishes offered to the Gods at Shrines during New Year’s (I didn’t find this out until going to the event though).
On December 27th, I boarded the local Seibu Line and traveled 20 minutes toward “Araiyakushimae”. While walking to the station, I was starting to feel really nervous because I’ve never made “mochi” in my life. What are the steps in making mochi? What tools do they use? These are just some of the questions that flashed through my mind at the time. At roughly 10:30am, everyone arrived at the venue and we followed our sensei to the preparation room. Once in the room, the event organizer explained a few things to us about the event and he cheerfully welcomed us as guests of the temple.
To my surprise and my relief, my groups main job was to deliver warm “mochi” soup and sweet “anko mochi” to the patrons outside, which was a stark contrast to the idea I had in my mind. However, after about an hour of serving the customers, my sensei and the event coordinators hurried us upstairs. This is when I realized that I was about to make “mochi”, but I had no idea that I was going to have to make it in front of cameras and a bunch of other Japanese people.
Hammers, Rice and Water!
Once upstairs, the head monk did explain the procedure quite quickly, but it was in English, so it was smooth sailing from there. From what he explained, the key to making good “mochi” is how often you pound the “mochi” with the two hammers. The largest hammer is used to combine the “mochi” rice into a mash that will eventually become a sticky paste. The smaller hammer is used to refine the mochi and it can be swung at a faster pace then the larger one. Since I was the only guy who wanted to participate in the event, I had to swing the heavy hammer, which was surprisingly difficult because the balance is centered at the top of the hammer. When reaching back one time, I accidentally loosened my grip and the hammer swung a little off center.
After hitting the “mochi” about 9 times with either hammer. The monks use water to fix the shape and check the texture. Me and my group were really happy to hear that our mochi actually came out pretty well and they actually used it to make a few lunches. This event was also, the first time I ever ate actual Japanese “mochi”. Back in the U.S., my main source of mochi is through ice cream which is pretty different from the “mochi” I made that day. To describe the texture bluntly, I would say, it’s “chewy”, but delicious when added to things like “anko” (Sweet red bean paste).
~This is anko “mochi”.
明けましておめでとう (Happy New Year!)
All in all, it was great way to spend the day and I learned quite a lot about Japanese culture. It was also, fun seeing various Japanese families pounding “mochi” outside with there kids for fun. The event, really made me understand the importance of family during this holiday season in Japan. Also, I hope everyone has a wonderful New Year!