Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Awhile back, reading Cream Puff's post about "doing the tomatoes" brought back memories of our mochitsuki (making rice cakes) in Hawaii. I wanted to share some of those memories with you.

When we were growing up, several families used to get together just before the New Year to make rice cakes. Some of the men would wake up REALLY early to start the fire in order to steam the mochigome (glutenous rice) and each family would bring their washed portion of mochigome to be steamed.

One or two of the elder women would be in charge of making the an (sweet bean paste). There were two types of an, koshian (smooth, pureed sweet bean paste) and tsubushian (sweet bean paste that is slightly mashed with some whole beans). The adzuki beans (red bean) had to be pre-cooked and seasoned, then formed into balls so that it could be easily put into the rice cakes, a job that only the older women were allowed to do, because they knew exactly how big the balls had to be--as the younger ones would usually put "too much" or "too little".

When the first batch of rice was ready, it was put into an usu (mortar) that was either made from stone or wood. Then with wooden sticks, the rice was mashed and then it was ready to pound. A kine (mallet) was used to pound the rice and everyone was given a turn. We were told that it was good luck to use the mallet to pound the rice at least for one or two hits. Lifting the mallet was tough and you had to try not to hit the sides of the usu--as the splinters would have gone into the mochi.

After the kids got their chance at pounding the mochi, then the men stepped in to do the real work. As one pounded the mochi, another folded the mochi over with a wet hand. This was to prevent the mochi from sticking to the mallet and also from sticking to the usu. I always thought this job was the scariest because if you weren't fast enough, your hand would get in the way of the person pounding the mochi...ouch!

When the mochi was pounded and soft it was quickly brought to a long work table well coated with mochiko (rice flour). This flour is a little sweet and helps the mochi from sticking to your hands. All the women would gather around the table and start shaping the mochi with their hands. There was also "quality control" that would check out the younger ones' mochi, as long as the mochi was round, you passed.

There are several types of mochi that we used to make, kagami mochi, mochi with an in it, and plain mochi with nothing inside. The mochi with nothing inside is used to eat ozoni on the first morning of the New Year. The mochi with an inside is usually eaten as is or pan fried with butter or coated with a sugar/kinako (soy bean flour)mixture.

Because things started so early in the morning, mochitsuki was usually over by lunch time. Each family also brought a dish or two and the long work table turned into a buffet. It was a nice way to spend time with the family and catch up on things.

I recently saw mochitsuki at our shopping arcade, I didn't have my camera, so these photos are from the shopping arcade's website. Unfortunately in Japan, most families don't get together to pound mochi.

(left): The women waiting near the pots of steaming rice.
(right): The women working on shaping the mochi.

(left): A little boy pounding mochi.
(right): A lady using her wet hand to turn the mochi as a man pounds the mochi.

I really miss those times.


Anonymous said...

I think Koreans used to make mochi like the way you described, but I haven't seen any since I grew up or heard of anyone making it that way.
It is kind of sad that traditions just pass away.

K and S said...

You are right Sue it is sad that traditions are forgotten or lost. I've heard that a lot of Japanese-Americans try to keep this tradition alive by making mochi together every year.

Take care.

Anonymous said...

Sue is right - this is the same as a very old method of mochi-making that was part of Korean tradition, and the only places you can see it still done are at the presentations on historical living at some of the old palaces around the country. Their contraptions are a bit bigger though - I remember trying to pound the mochi with the gigantic mallet and I only managed to strike it hard once!

Anonymous said...


That was so sweet to read! What an involved tradition. It sounds like a lot of work but also lots of fun. I completely understand how you would miss it. It's the togetherness and feeling that you're accomplishing something as a group that's so important!

K and S said...

The mallet we used was really heavy too, Ellie!

You are right, Ivonne, the teamwork and togetherness was very important and lots of fun.

Take care you two.

Anonymous said...

I watched mochitsuki once but not live though. It is from arashi tv programme (mago-mago arashi).

I found your blog few days back and start reading from the beginning.hehe.(thats why u see 2012 comment in 2006 entry.hope u dont mind) i always do this with any blog that i find interesting :)

K and S said...

Thanks Anon, I don't mind :)

Take care and thanks for reading.