Japan has a culture so rich and so deep that even after having been here for 6 years, I’m still hearing new customs and traditions for the first time. Mochi-tsuki is something I’d heard about before, but never had the chance to try. This weekend, however, I was lucky enough to be invited out to Gunma prefecture to join the ceremony with a friend’s family.
Mochi is Japanese rice cake, made of mochigome, a short-grain rice, and is eaten year-round in Japan, but is traditionally made in the mochi-tsuki ceremony on the 30th of December each year.
First, the rice is soaked overnight and then cooked by steaming. It is then placed into a hollowed out wooden mortar called an usu, and hammered with wooden mallets called kine. Usually the hammering is done by two people, alternating in a steady rhythm to avoid hitting each other (the kine are very heavy!).
Every now and then, the mochi is turned and wet a little more, and after it reaches a smooth consistency, it is placed onto a large wooden board and covered with a special flour, before being rolled flat with a rolling pin. It can be formed into various shapes, depending on the dish it is being used for.
The most well-known dish in which mochi is used is the traditional soup eaten on New Year’s Day, o-zōni, but mochi is eaten in a number of different ways. There’s also kinako-mochi (mochi coated in soy bean flour, and also often brown sugar syrup), daifuku, or anpin for those using the Gunma dialect (sweet red bean paste wrapped in mochi), or various other sweet and savoury treats.
Eating traditional meals with Japanese families has always been the highlight of my time in Japan, and even better is being involved in the cooking process!