I have been missing for a while, yet again – ごめんね. Months ago, I participated in a rice harvesting activity in Takinomata, a small village in Akita. In this post I will be writing about my reunion with the people of Takinomata.
Going back to Takinomata, truly felt like going home. The same villagers who helped us before, accompanied us again. This time we helped the villager prepare for the upcoming winter; winters in Akita are notorious for their heavy snow fall and freezing temperatures. Our schedule included: preparing the local shrine, wrapping the trees, pounding mochi, making our meal (featuring kiritanpo), and enjoying our meal with locals and officials. Originally, our group of 15 students was supposed to split into 2-3 smaller assignments, and regroup for our meal – but being close to one of the main coordinators, I was able to do a little bit of everything.
I first headed a little ways away and up a steep incline toward the local shrine. I unfortunately, do not know which deity is worshiped there. At there shrine, the main concern was protecting the glass sides of the structure from the weight of the heavy snow to come. The locals showed up how to use rope to tie wooden planks onto the sides of the shrine.
There were too many hands at the shrine so my friends and I went back to the community center to ask where we could help out. We ended up cleaning and preparing for the mochi pounding. Mochi is a Japanese rice cake, made with a super sticky and glutenous rice. We prepared it the traditional way – with an usu and kine: essentially a giant mortar and mallet. Both of these were made of a heavy wood that we were tasked with cleaning thoroughly. My friends and I were able to get first dibs at the mochi pounding. We also helped make tanpo in the kitchen, as well as flavoring the mochi – by rolling them in sweet red bean sauce or rolling them in kinako, a sweetened roasted soybean flour.
All of this was done while chatting with locals, exchanging stories, and much laughter. Around noon, everyone came back to the community center and we set up for our meal.
We all gathered in the community center’s main hall and took a seat. In a manner similar to the last time I was here, a few words were spoken by the President of the Council and the President of Team TAKINOMATA. I found out my friend Yukina, who had been with me all day, was becoming President of Team TAKINOMATA this upcoming Spring semester! Upon this announcement, beer and cocktails were brought out and the festivities began!
Our colossal meal included kiritanpo, tanpo on it’s own (as in not in the soup), pickled veggies, mochi, and salad. It doesn’t sound like much, but trust me – it hit the spot. As usual, more local people gathered in the hall as the feast went on: children were running around, some of the ojisans took to grilling meat outside, while others stayed inside and mingled.
It was quite interesting to see how much more comfortable the locals got with us after a few beers! Pictures were taken, jokes were made, and the hall was full of conversation and laughter. I will not be able to visit Takinomata again this semester, which made every moment even more precious. The bonding experiences I’ve had here, as well the overwhelming sense of community, are things that will stick with me for a lifetime.
Until next time,