Ring in the New Year with the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community 2020 Mochi Tsuki Celebration
Mochi is a Japanese rice cake, made of mochigome, a short-grain japonica glutinous rice, which is pounded into a paste and then molded into a variety of shapes—although its eaten year-round, it is the traditional food made for the Japanese New Year Mochi Tsuki celebration. According to folklore, the first Mochi Tsuki ceremony occurred when the Kami were believed to have descended to Earth during the Yayoi period (300BC – 300AD), and its first recorded use for New Year’s celebrations and festivities dates back to the Japanese Heian period (794 – 1192). Over the centuries, it’s believed to have many attributes, such as an omen of good fortune, “food for the gods” used in religious offerings, a talisman for happy marriages, and an important ritual to assist in ensuring good health, life and crops.
The annual tradition begins with soaking the mochi rice overnight, then its steamed and cooked and pounded into paste using the usu, which is a large bowl, and the kine, which is a wooden mallet. It is then rolled out on solid granite, and shaped into cakes.
Here on Bainbridge Island, the Mochi Tsuki New Year’s celebration began quietly back in the 1970s, when the Okano and Nakata families gathered to make mochi to welcome the new year in. At the time they owned the Bainbridge Dry Cleaners, which was located on lower Madison Avenue—using the dry cleaner’s steam line, they steamed 50 pounds of rice in a 30 gallon garbage can, pounded it by hand, and then formed the rice cakes, which they ate with soy sauce, or filled with an, a sweetened red bean paste.
Today, the tradition continues as a beloved Bainbridge Island community celebration, where both the older and newer generations of our Japanese community work side-by-side to share this important ritual with the entire island community.
Join the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community (BIJAC) on Saturday, January 4, 2020 at Woodward Middle School, located at 9125 Sportsman Club Road NE, from 11am to 3pm, where you’ll get a close-up look as they steam almost 200 pounds of rice in batches over an open fire, and try your hand at pounding the rice under the guidance of pounding masters Egashira and Okano, using traditional mallets made by Mike Okano, a descendant of one of the original families. Then enjoy forming the mochi cakes, which can be eaten plain, filled with an, or dipped in soy sauce and sugar.
In addition to the traditional Mochi Tsuki New Year’s celebration, Taiko Shows will be performed at noon and 2pm, and a “Passing of the Mallet” ceremony, honoring retired Master Pounder Shoichi Sugiyama at noon. There will also be a Kids Activity Stamp Card, Origami Instruction, Educational displays, and a display sponsored by the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum.
*Logo and image from the BIJAC, and used with permission by the BIJAC