Mochi binds people together

WAILUA — A traditional saying claims the stickiness of mochi rice helps bind the relationships of family and friends through the New Year.

The mochi rice, a sweetened rice, is soaked for several days leading up to making mochi. The traditional way is using a kine, or special wooden mallet, and usu, or stone mortar. The steamed mochi rice is pounded with the kine, sprinkled with water, and pounded more until the mochi is ready to be fashioned into the edible-sized morsels.

“The missus said they have machines which make mochi faster,” said Ed Kawamura. “But I keep telling her that as long as I’m around, they don’t need machines. We do it the old-fashioned way.”

Part of the “sticking together” quality of mochi making is when families come together for the common task of creating mochi. The gathering is always seasoned with liberal helpings of food and drink.

“The usu they use is more than a hundred years old,” said Laurie Ho, one of the people at the weekend’s mochi-making. “It came from Huleiia and belonged to Aunty Bea Kawamura on the Kashima side of the family.”

Wooden kine, or mallets, are created several days ahead of the mochi-making. One task at the mochi-making is to clean and prepare the kine for the next batch.

“This is an important job,” said Stanford Morinaka. “You have to clean the hammers. Otherwise, you get splinters, and no one wants splinters in their mochi.”

Mochi used to be available for purchase through some of the Buddhist churches. However, as the church population ages and dwindles, the practice of making mochi is limited to just the church members.

“We just did 250 pounds of rice using a machine,” said Carla Dusenberry of the Kauai Soto Zenshuji Temple in Hanapepe. “This is enough to care for our members, and maybe a little extra for sale.”

Over at the Waimea Higashi Hongwanji, there were orders being taken for customers wanting mochi, but the deadline was in mid-December for pickup on Sunday.

Hidemi Matsumoto, working at the Kauai Soto Zen mochi-making Saturday, said mochi must be made by Dec. 30, and making it on Dec. 29 was not acceptable because of numerology.

“We started about 5:30 this morning,” said Wesley Hayashi of the Kapaa Jodo Mission. “We made 450 pounds, which is about the same as last year. But we had a lot of people on the line so we finished early.”

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