For more than three decades, the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community (BIJAC) has hosted Mochi Tsuki, a Japanese festival aimed at ringing in the New Year in a traditional way. After a two-year hiatus due to the Pandemic, the event is back on tap – live this coming Saturday, January 7, 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 the island’s biggest cultural event – then you’re in for a treat.
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!
A major highlight of this year and every previous year’s Mochi Tsuki is the appearance of the Seattle Kokon Taiko drum ensemble, which will perform two shows. Each show will seat a maximum of 700 guests, so BIJAC is encouraging attendees to grab a free ticket to reserve a spot when they arrive at the festival.
Taiko is a synthesis of rhythm, movement and spirit whose origins lie deeply embedded in Japanese culture and history. 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.”
Besides Mochi making and eating and the Taiko group, the festival will include a pictorial history of the award-winning “Kodomo No Tameni – For the sake of the children” exhibit, plus instructions on the art of Origami, or Japanese paper folding, and Obon, a traditional Japanese dance.
To make the festival even more fun 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.
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.
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 7, 2023
LOCATION: Woodward Middle School, 9125 Sportsman Club Rd, Bainbridge Island
TIME: 11am – 3pm
SEATTLE KOKON TAIKO PERFORMANCES: Noon and 2 pm
OBON DANCE: 1-1:30pm
POINT OF DEPARTURE: Public premier of this short documentary, selected for the 12th annual Films of Remembrance film festival in San Francisco, February 25th, 2023
COST: Free, donations welcome
For more information on the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community visit: https://bijac.org/
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