It’s Back! Mochi Tsuki – an Island Japanese Festival Like None Other – at Woodward MS this Saturday

As has been their tradition for more than three decades, the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community (BIJAC) will host Mochi Tsuki, a Japanese festival aimed at ringing in the New Year the Japanese-American way this coming Saturday, January 6, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Woodward Middle School.

“It’s become a way to share (Japanese-American) history and culture with the (greater) community by sharing food and making Mochi,” says Carol Reitz, the current President of BIJAC. If you’ve never attended Mochi Tsuki – considered by many to be one of the island’s biggest cultural events – then you’re in for a treat.

Steaming Rice - Image Courtesy of BIJAC
Steaming Rice – Image Courtesy of BIJAC

Mochi (pronounced Moe-Chee) is the sweet rice treat that generations of Japanese families and communities use to come together and wish each other good health and prosperity for the coming year. At Woodward on Saturday, Mochi will be made in the traditional way—steaming sweet rice over an open fire, followed by pounding the rice by hand with traditional, handcrafted cherry wood mallets (kine) in a granite bowl (usu).

Guests at this free event can get in on the action by trying their hands at pounding the Mochi, forming it into cakes by hand, and eating it while it’s still warm and sticky!

Besides making Mochi, attendees can learn Origami, or Japanese paper folding, and learn to dance the Obon, or Bon Odori, a traditional Japanese dance. As well as watch and feel taiko, a synthesis of rhythm, movement and spirit whose origins lie deeply embedded in Japanese culture and history, says Reitz.

Taiko appears in Japanese myths of origin involving the sun goddess Ameterasu. Paintings from medieval Japan depict taiko encircling the head of the god of thunder. In olden days, it is said that village boundaries were set by the distance you could hear the taiko from the village temple. Taiko were used in peasant festivals to mimic the sounds of animals, wind, ocean, thunder, or fire in attempts to please or appease the gods.

“You not only see the drums,” says Reitz of the drummers, who will be decked out in traditional costumes, “but you hear them and feel them.”

Kids pounding rice - Courtesy of BIJAC
Kids pounding rice – Courtesy of BIJAC

To make the festival even more fun again this year, Reitz says, BIJAC will hold an informal trivia contest posing questions on Japanese American history. It will include a spinning wheel and winners will receive prizes. “It’s a fun way to educate people on Japanese (American) history,” she says. This year’s festival will also include discussions from the artists who helped create the art on the Exclusion Memorial Departure Deck.

Mochi Tsuki got started on Bainbridge some 30 years ago in a local dry-cleaners, where families would meet and literally steam rice using the dry cleaner’s own steamer. Eventually, it grew in popularity and moved around to various locations, such as Island Center, Islandwood, and in recent years, Woodward Middle School.

Mochi Tsuki - Image courtesy of BIJAC
Mochi Tsuki – Image courtesy of BIJAC

Reitz encourages attendees to come early since the festival – sponsored by Town & Country Markets – typically attracts 1,500 to 2,000 visitors. If you can’t make the event in person, it will be live streamed on BIJAC Facebook page.

MOCHI TSUKI SCHEDULE

DATE: Saturday, January 6, 2023

LOCATION: Woodward Middle School, 9125 Sportsman Club Rd, Bainbridge Island

TIME: 11am – 3pm

TAIKO PERFORMANCES: 11:45-12:30 and 2:00-2:45. Tickets (no cost) available at the South Entrance, first come, first served basis

BON ODORI GROUP DANCING: 1-1:45 outside under the covered area of the gym1-1:30pm

COST: Free, donations welcome.

BIJAC logoFor more information on the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community visit: https://bijac.org/

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