WAILUA — Leesha Kawamura watched 4-year-old Austin Sadamitsu quietly munching the mochi during the mochitsuki at Ed Kawamura’s home in Wailua.
“You can have it later,” Leesha said. “But it’s especially tasty when it’s hot, coming right off the table.”
Ed, Sr. recently hosted the annual mochi making, a hanai tradition which continues in communities and homes from the time it was introduced to Hawaii by immigrant Japanese laborers.
“This is a United Nations event,” Ed, Sr. said. “We have people from Mexico, Japan, and here today. They’re all pounding mochi.”
Mochi is a rice cake created by a special sticky rice that has been soaked overnight, steamed, and pounded into a mass of hot paste in an usu, or mortar made from stone. Following the pounding, the mass is molded into different shapes with, or without filling.
Mochi is a traditional food for the New Year, and the process of making mochi is called mochitsuki.
“We’re doing it, early,” said Ed Kawamura, Jr. “We’ll have mochi for New Year’s.”
Paco Espinosa from Mexico was a returning mochi maker, having done this several years ago with the Kawamura family. He was joined by Rev. Shinji Kondo of the Shinnyo-en Hawaii, known for its hosting of the Memorial Day floating candle ceremony in Honolulu.
“This is amazing,” Kondo said. “I was born and raised in Japan, and never pounded mochi. It’s too easy to buy mochi from the stores. This is my first time pounding mochi since I moved here in 2001. I was going to pound 10 times, but even numbers are unlucky for Japanese, so I’m going to do 11 times.”
His batch included Austin wielding his own kine, or wooden mallet used to pound the rice, as well as Matthew Kawamura, who arrived home that morning to help with the mochi.
“Sensei has his own kine, now,” Ed Sr. said. “He wasn’t here when we were making the kine after work. But, we knew he was coming so now, he has his own.”
Lily Kawamura, Ed Sr’s wife, led the group of womenfolk around a table liberally sprinkled with mochiko for creating the morsels, filled with the traditional an, or black bean paste, as well as more contemporary fillings like peanut butter.
“This is not just mochi,” Kondo said following his third round of pounding. “This kind of event brings people, no, the community together. It is truly amazing.”