While there are dozens of mochi specialty shops throughout Japan which are almost made with the help of machines, you should know what was the traditional labor intensive way of making – or to make it specific – pounding mochi!
Mochi is Japanese rice cake. Mochitsuki is a traditional Japanese ceremony to make mochi. Being steamed and then pounded in an annual New Year’s ritual known as mochitsuki (餅搗き) is the traditional way of making and pounding mochi. Tsuki ( 搗き) means “to pound or pounding”.
Mochi is made from rice and has a sticky context when you eat it. People in Japan have been eating these rice cakes since ancient times for all sorts of celebrations like New Year’s Day and festivals. But nowadays, with the help of technology, many people have somehow ignored the labor intensive mochi pounding and have changed to the popular Japan-made mochi-making machines. However, the tradition of eating it on New Year’s has remained intact in the culture. When the year ends, all sorts of food stands are lined up, selling different shapes of mochi and other varieties of food.
Mochitsuki is a combined effort of two or more people with one person pounding on a sticky mass of glutinous rice placed in a granite mortar (usu) with a wooden mallet (kine), while the other turns, folds, and wets the mochi. Pounding mochi is very timely and rhythmical, so it’s exciting and fun to watch.
Pounding down mochi at the beginning is fun, but as the pounding continues, the hammer becomes heavier and when your forearms, hands, and shoulders tire out, you can just pass the kine to someone else. After the event, you’ll probably have muscle pain.
There were times that every household in a community gathered to donate their rice cake leftovers as they annually held a community event such as mochitsuki. Regardless of its difficulties, it’s still worth the effort! There are different sizes of kine and you should choose which one you can manage to hold and probably the one that is proportion to your body size.
Making mochi is great fun, but it’s not as breezy as you think. There is a technique in swinging. When you make a hit, wait for the person to turn and wet the mochi while you get ready to strike again. Be careful not to hit the person who is adding water to the mochi. He or she will be constantly folding the mochi between your swings.
Mochi is incredibly sticky and chewy. Make sure to have water or hot tea prepared when eating. You can add red bean paste, soybean flour, soy sauce, and even wrap it with nori as you like! Mochi soup (ozoni) is cooked with vegetables and other foods are usually served.
You could participate in this kind of event by checking out your local community especially during the month of December – here’s a link to one happening in Tokyo if you’re in the area!