Mochitsuki - Literally- 'making mochi'

T
he slightly sweet pounded rice cakes are a traditional part of Oshogatsu, the celebration of the New Year in Japan. 'Kagami mochi' (mochi made in the shape of a round flat mirror and stacked one atop the other) is seen in Buddhist, Shinto and western Japanese cultural celebrations. It is an all day process which begins with the steaming of mochigome - sweet glutinous rice. While it is still hot, the mochi is placed in an 'usu' a large stone, or wood, or concrete mortar. Large wooden mallets are then used in a steady rhythm by one or more people as another turns the mochi until the mochi is smooth. The turner splashes water on the dough so that it doesn't stick to the sides of the tub and the mallets. The turner is important and may even risk injury to his or her fingers if the pounders are not working together in rhythm.

Once the mochi is of the right consistency, it is brought out quickly to a table covered with corn starch. The corn starch is used to keep the mochi from sticking to anything else. The mochi is divided into smaller sections and made into bulb like forms by squeezing the outside to the middle of the sections which create a shiny smooth surface to the mochi. These are made in various sizes, for New Year's displays and for eating in individual bowls with soup or other foods.

Mochitsuki usually is a party-like social function with work and play combined. Churches, organizations and families gather around and help with the creation of the smooth white cakes.  Sometimes, 'ozoni ' (the first food of the New Year - a New Year's  soup) is made on the spot so that people can taste the product of their labors. The mochi can also be pan fried or steamed again or boiled in which case various favorite flavorings like sugar and shoyu, kinako and sugar and even cheese and nori are eaten, either by dipping or wrapping the mochi in or around them.

In Japantown San Jose, there are various organizations who make mochi as an annual fundraiser. Some organizations and churches also make mochi for their own groups as an end of the year social function. See events page for listings