Mochi and kadomatsu more than treat for visitors

PO’IPU — Breakfast diners at the Sheraton Kauai Resort in Po’ipu had an extra treat Wednesday. Angela Vento, the resort’s general manager, was inspecting the activity going on at the Shells lobby area, where members of the West Kauai Hongwanji Mission were fully engrossed in their respective stations.

The activity centered around the traditional Japanese New Year’s celebration, and, on a more local level, the creation of kadomatsu, as well as the rice delicacy, mochi.

Executive Chef Shoji Namatame could not resist the offer to take his turn at wetting down the developing wad of mochi as the hongwanji members alternated between pounding the rice using the traditional stone bowl (usu) and wooden mallets.

At the encouraging of the Rev. Kojun Hashimoto, the resident reverend for the West Kauai Hongwanji Mission, children who had gathered around the activity were given an opportunity to wield the mallet.

“It’s good luck,” one of the ladies awaiting the hot mass of rice said, encouraged the youngsters. “You have to do it.”

Vento said she got the idea of hosting the hongwanji members after seeing a similar demonstration while she was on O’ahu, but said that, as a Mainlander by birth, these cultural events have always fascinated her.

That fascination carried over to a couple departing their breakfast table, who stopped off for a closer look (and samples), explaining that their son was majoring in Japanese in college, and, following his graduation, were planning a trip to Japan.

Additionally, associates from the Sheraton Kauai Resort found time to visit the ongoing demonstration and partake of some of the samples, their pride in being able to associate with what was taking place clearly evident, as they did not hesitate to offer their explanations to guests of the event.

Takeshi Fujita, a retired educator, was beaming, a towel wrapped around his head as he offered explanations of kadomatsu to visitors who stopped by.

“A number of people offered to buy these,” he chuckled. “This could be a fund-raiser.”

A visitor from Anaheim, Calif. was surprised that something like this was taking place in front of her eyes, and Fujita quickly offered a place where she could get her own creations closer to home.

“This is really good,” Fujita said. “They (the Sheraton Kauai leaders) called us. And, look at the crowd. It’s a captive audience,” he added, indicating the line of people waiting to enter the resort’s dining area.

“If we did it later, we wouldn’t have had such a big drawing. This is perfect,” he said.

“Our team did a splendid job,” Vento added. “They’ve come up with some really good programs this year.”

Vento’s mind whirred silently, a possible vision of a summer bon dance on the hotel grounds dancing through her head?

Fujita noted that it would be a marvelous idea. He said that, on the Big Island, leaders of the Buddhist temples have come together to organize a bon dance at one of the shopping centers there, indicating that a bon dance on the Sheraton Kauai Resort grounds is do-able because of the grounds layout.

In the meantime, Namatame and Hashimoto were discussing some of the New Year foods partaken of by Japanese in celebration of the event, Namatame noting that ozoni, the soup made using the mochi, comes in many different varieties depending on the region of Japan people visit.

As he adjourned in preparation for lunch, Namatame accepted a tray of assorted mochi “for the dishwashers in the back,” he said.

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