OLYMPIA - About 50 people celebrated the new year the Japanese way Saturday, pounding steamed rice into a dumpling-like food known as mochi.
The afternoon mochi-pounding event, or “mochitsuki” in Japanese, was organized for the first time by the Olympia-Kato Sister City Association and staged at Yashiro Japanese Garden near City Hall. In addition to those who came to prepare mochi, the River Ridge Taiko Ensemble performed on handmade drums, band director John Theine said.
Although mochi is eaten year-round in Japan, it typically is prepared for a traditional Japanese meal on New Year’s Day, said Peter Okada, a member of the association. After a short introduction outlining the cultural significance of mochi, three people took turns creating the food by pounding it in a large mortar bowl with long wooden mallets. From there, the mochi was removed, lightly covered in flour and combined with other ingredients to give it flavor.
Yukako Inoue of Kobe, Japan, a student at The Evergreen State College, attended with her host family. Today, most Japanese buy mochi at the grocery store or have a mochi-making machine at home, but even in her neighborhood in Kobe, people still gather to prepare it the old-fashioned way, she said. Mochi commonly is served in miso soup, but Inoue prefers to eat it in combination with a sweet red bean paste, she said. There’s also yakimochi, baked mochi wrapped in a seaweed called nori and topped off with soy sauce.
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In addition to soy sauce and nori, Saturday’s mochi was given an American twist: Participants could try it with peanut butter and other sweet foods. Okada also said a decorative version of mochi called kagamimochi is put on display around the new year.
Jack and Evelyn Coyne, members of the association for six years, came to try the mochi Saturday. They also have traveled to Olympia’s sister city, Kato, on exchanges organized by the group, Evelyn said.
Olympia started its sister city relationship with Yashiro in the early 1980s; then Yashiro was absorbed into a larger city called Kato. Kato is not far from the cities of Kobe and Osaka in central Japan. Yashiro Japanese Garden, named after the original sister city, was dedicated in May 1990.
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For more information about the Olympia-Kato Sister City Association, go to www.OlympiaKatoSCA.org.