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Traditional mochi pounding helps ring in new year
By Dennis Fujimoto – The Garden Island
Mochi is relished by people due to its stickness, and it is this property that helps to bind families together as well, as several gathered around the island starting Sunday to create the traditional New Year delicacies in backyards.
Traditionally, Hawai‘i mochi is produced in the week between Christmas and New Year’s.
Due to its richness, mochi is also offered to the New Year gods in hopes of receiving prosperity in the coming year for those offering it.
At the Robert Kawamura Jr. home in Wailua, there was a mix of nationalities from around the island, state, and even the Mainland who gathered, with everyone getting a chance to pound out the mochi in the stone bowl, or usu.
Wooden mallets are used to pound the mochi, with a turner responsible for turning the mochi blob as well as adding water to the developing mochi, in between mallet blows.
Although families usually opt for the traditional method of having the men wield the wooden mallets to produce the familiar New Year’s delicacy, others order their mochi from churches that utilize different mechanized methods of producing the quantities of mochi to fill customers’ orders.
Between the Hanapepe Kauai Soto Zen Temple Zenshuji, the Kapaa Jodo Mission, and the Kapaa Hongwanji Mission, members worked through over 1,600 pounds of uncooked mochi rice.
At the Hanapepe Kauai Soto Zen Temple Zenshuji, “Aunty Chick” Miyamoto explained that the permanent mochi machine came from the Takeuchi family in Kekaha.
“They used to sell mochi,” Miyamoto said. “But then, as the people became older, there was no one to carry on.”
Faced with this dilemma, Miyamoto said they approached church leaders and donated the equipment on condition that the family gets to use it once a year to make their own mochi.
The machine that resembles a pile driver driven by a system of belts and pulleys was permanently installed on one of the church walls, and using a bowl fashioned out of marble, church members produced the sticky delicacy in about five minutes per batch.
Kapaa Soto Mission and the Kapa‘a Hongwanji Mission volunteers used more contemporary machines to grind out the raw mochi, which is then transferred to tables lined with special potato starch.
There, a waiting line of people form the familiar mochi, some being filled with special paste created out of azuki beans.
While this filling is available in supermarkets in canned form, Kapaa Hongwanji member Toshie Shimizu continues to cook up the paste in the traditional manner.
Younger members learn from the more seasoned members who have been doing it for many years.
Makana Sakihama, an eighth-grader at Kamehameha Schools, was home for the holidays, and joined her grandmother, Sue Sakihama, at the Kapaa Jodo Mission, where she “learned” under grandma’s tutelage.
Miyamoto is one such veteran, as she recollected the way mochi was made long ago as she talked with younger ladies at their table in Hanapepe.
As families gather to make mochi, there is also room for experimentation, as at the Kawamura home, where someone tried filling the mochi with peanut butter, a product that met with wide acceptance as people tried it out.
The finished mochi is enjoyed by families as part of the New Year celebration. The most common use of the mochi is as an ingredient in o-zoni, a soup that utilizes the mochi as one of the New Year welcoming festivities.
The stickiness of the mochi symbolizes the binding of the families, as well as being a symbol of prosperity staying with the family.
Mochi is also used as an offering to the New Year gods, where it is usually coupled with a leafed orange. Following a period where the gods can enjoy the offering, the mochi is then taken down and eaten by the family as a symbol of good luck in the coming year.
In any form, the best description of mochi and the process of creating it could be summed up by 3-year-old Kaylee Mai Takata, the daughter of the Rev. Koho Takata of the Kapaa Hongwanji Mission.
Kaylee came running up to a Young Buddhist Association member, a half-eaten mochi in her hand, and with a big smile said, “The best part is eating it.”
Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or mailto:email@example.com.
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