Kalani Murakami, recently graduated from college and living in California, was among the volunteers at the Kapaa Hongwanji Mission helping make mochi for New Year’s Saturday.
“What?” Murakami said, joining other family members in the creation of both the mochi used for New Year decoration, or kagami mochi, and the mochi used for eating as part of osechi, or New Year’s food. “They (the Kapaa Jodo Mission) stopped making mochi two years ago? Maybe I need to come to Kauai for Christmas and New Year.”
Kapaa Hongwanji Mission was one of two Buddhist churches creating mochi to fill community orders, the other being the Kauai Soto Zen Temple in Hanapepe.
Mochi is one of the significant foods used in celebrating New Year’s, considered one of the most important observances in Japanese culture.
“Ah, New Year’s,” said Kana Iwamoto, an exchange student from Okinawa who was helping at the mochi making. “We decorate the house, usually near the television, and I can feel, ‘Ah, New Year!’ I love otoshi dama, or the practice of older people giving money to children in the New Year.” The tradition of mochi arrived with the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii more than a century ago.
Cheryl Shintani, president of the Kauai Yamaguchi Kenjin Kai, said during the recent Gannenmono celebration, or 150th anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants’ arrival in Hawaii, that officials and dignitaries visiting from the Japan sister cities were impressed with how Kauai residents, now third and fourth generations, continue to embrace the traditions of the first generation of Japanese.
“This is like a time warp,” said Dr. Brian Yamamoto, a Kapaa Hongwanji Mission member and instructor at Kauai Community College. “Researchers from Japan come to Kauai to study about Japanese traditions. When the first immigrants got here, they had nothing to fall back on except the traditions and culture they brought with them. This was passed on from generation to generation.”
As a New Year decoration, mochi is placed in pairs, one bigger than the other, called kagami mochi, in several places around the home. It is usually placed with a bitter orange with leaves attached symbolizing several generations, and is accompanied with dried seaweed, or konbu.
“Rice is an important product for the Japanese,” Yamamoto said. “That is why it is offered to the Sun God along with the konbu and other important foods of harvest.”
As a New Year food, mochi is usually eaten in ozoni, a type of soup, as part of osechi, or New Year’s food, along with other popular dishes like sashimi and sushi.