Traditional Taiko Drumming, Mochi-Making Highlight Bainbridge Japanese Festival

MOCHITSUKI POSTER 2023 w trims.Rain, wind and blustery weather couldn’t keep islanders and visitors from attending this past weekend’s Mochi Tsuki – the Japanese New Year’s festival – at Woodward Middle School.

“It’s exciting to have this back after so many years,” said Clarence Moriwaki, a long-time member of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community (BIJAC), the organization that puts on the annual celebration. “It’s no longer just a Japanese American event, it’s a Bainbridge Island event on the level of the Rotary Auction or the Fourth of July Parade.”

The 33-year-old festival was cancelled the past two years due to the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Moriwaki, who is a Bainbridge Island City Council member and was instrumental in helping to develop the island’s Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, stood on the Woodward Middle School stage overlooking a model of the Memorial, which is still expanding, and marveled at the size of the crowd, estimated to be close to 2,000 people.

“All these people are here and they’re taking pictures and asking questions (about the Japanese internment),” he said. “That’s what’s great about this event.”

Mochi Tsuki Bainbridge Island 2023The stage where Moriwaki stood was crowded with people viewing parts of the award-winning “Kodomo No Tameni – For the sake of the children” exhibit that features the story of how and why 276 Japanese-American citizens or Nisei were forcibly removed from Bainbridge Island in 1942.

Nearby was a spinning wheel where attendees could answer trivia questions about Japanese-American history and win prizes. For Moriwaki, one of the highlights of last weekend’s festival was the model showing the future Visitor Center, along with the existing park grounds, including the Wall, on which the names of individuals and families who were taken from their homes – with only a few days notice – are inscribed, and the Departure Dock, where 80-plus years ago Bainbridge citizens of Japanese descent were led off the island and onto a nearby ferry. Most didn’t return until after World War II and some never did.

Mochi Tsuki Bainbridge Island 2023 - 1“We thought the Visitor Center was going to be the Crown Jewel of the Memorial,” said Moriwaki. “(But) the Wall’s the thing. The Visitor Center (will be) a supporting feature.”

The City Councilor said the short documentary – Point of Departure – about Bainbridge’s exclusion experience during World War II, and mentioned at Mochi Tsuki just “nailed it.” He said some people have complained that the Memorial is “too beautiful” and doesn’t convey the “fear and danger” Japanese-Americans were enduring as they were herded off the island.

The documentary, selected for the 12th annual Films of Remembrance film festival in San Francisco this coming Feb. 25, brings the uncertainty the Nisei faced to life, Moriwaki noted.

Making Mochi - Bainbridge Island 2023 Meantime, folks attending the festival could learn Origami, the art of Japanese paper folding, try their feet at Obon, a traditional Japanese dance, or make and eat Mochi, 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. Last Saturday at Woodward, Mochi was 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).

Hundreds of people lined up to get a chance at making their own Mochi forming it into cakes by hand, and eating it while it’s still warm and sticky!

By far, the free festival’s biggest draw was the appearance of the Seattle Kokon Taiko drum ensemble, which performed two shows in the Woodward Seattle Kokon Taiko - Mochi Tsuki Festival Bainbridge Island 2023gymnasium to the delight of 750 guests per show. Taiko is a synthesis of rhythm, movement and spirit whose origins are deeply embedded in Japanese culture and history.

Thirteen drummers, all dressed in traditional costumes, played and danced a half-dozen Japanese pieces, literally rumbling the auditorium with their exotic rhymes. A dragon completed the 45-minute show with several dances that thrilled both kids and adults. For more information on the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community visit:

*Photos by Kevin Dwyer

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