Justin Uchimura left and Derek Ogi get into the rhythm of pounding the sweet rice into mochi at the Mochi Tsuki Friday morning at the Kona Daifukuji Soto Mission in Honalo. (Laura Shimabuku/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Mochi balls are floured before being packaged at the Mochi Tsuki Friday morning at the Kona Daifukuji Soto Mission in Honalo. (Laura Shimabuku/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Keiki use sticks to mix the mochi in the traditional way before pounding it at the Mochi Tsuki Friday morning at the Kona Daifukuji Soto Mission in Honalo. (Laura Shimabuku/Special to West Hawaii Today)
The rhythmic pounding of sweet rice becoming mochi reverberated through Honalo’s Daifukuji Soto Mission early Friday as several generations churned out thousands of the traditional Japanese new year treats.
Making mochi is an annual Japanese tradition said to bring good tidings and luck to families during the new year, said Avis Yamamoto, a mission member and one of the event’s coordinators. It is also the Daifukuji’s largest fundraiser it supports two taiko drumming groups, which together comprise about 10 members, and a youth group.
Creating the traditional treat is a multiday event that requires many hands, long hours and physical labor. It is also a time of fellowship and socializing with friends and family that perpetuates the tradition and those who have died, Yamamoto said. That is why the mission pounds a batch the traditional way.
“It’s about honoring our ancestors and preserving this tradition,” Yamamoto said as a handful of youngsters worked the freshly steamed rice with long sticks before pounding the rice with a pestle, known as a kine, and a nearly five-generation-old mortar, or usu. “That is why we let the kids do it.”
Mochi is sweet rice that is soaked and steamed until soft, then pounded, or run through a mochi-making machine, until it reaches a thick, pasty consistency, Yamamoto said. It is then shaped using potato starch; flavorings are sometimes added, but the Daifukuji Soto Mission sticks to the traditional plain treat that can be used in soup like ozoni or eaten as a treat.
Yamamoto estimated some 250 kagami, a traditional Japanese decoration consisting of two stacked round mochi and a type of citrus that is often placed on an altar, and 4,500 2-ounce plain mochi would be made by the volunteers. People began picking up their hand-shaped goodies around 9:30 a.m.
Roughly 50 to 80 people were helping make mochi at any given time on Friday, Yamamoto said. That follows a day’s worth of work Thursday soaking and rinsing 540 pounds of dry mochi rice before steaming began around 2:30 a.m. Friday.
One of the many helpers, Lyanne Asada first made mochi at the mission 21 years ago at the age of 10 when she was taking part in taiko drumming. Many years later, the Kona resident still returns to help, as well as to share her knowledge and mastery of the mochi-making process.
“We need to show them (the kids) an example so they can carry on the tradition,” she said while using her fingers to check the mochi’s consistency. “It’s an important tradition, and it’s important to the community and culture to continue this because you don’t want the tradition to die.”
She also said the mission’s programs, like taiko drumming, helped make her a better leader.
“It brought a whole other side of me out,” Asada said. “I used to be shy, but it made me very outgoing.”
Fourteen-year-old Derek Ogi, a Konawaena High School student who helped with the ceremonial pounding of the mochi with the usu and kine, as well as forming the mochi, said he takes part in the annual event to carry on the tradition, as well as support funding the taiko program, of which he is a member. The hardest thing about pounding the mochi by hand is getting the technique right, since each strike needs to be timed correctly and hit accurately — otherwise the kine could crack.
“It’s important to our culture and church to do the mochi like this,” he said. “I will get it down eventually.”