Making Mochi: pounding fun, spiritually powered rice cakes
MISAWA AIR BASE - Despite the fact nearly every country has a different tradition for celebrating the holidays, preparing and consuming food has always played a part in bringing people closer together. Members of the 35th Fighter Wing, Naval Air Facility, Japan Air Self-Defense Force and local community experienced this first hand when they gathered to share in the Japanese tradition of making mochi on Dec. 14.
Mochi are small, round rice cakes made by pounding steamed glutinous rice with a large, wooden mallet in a large, wooden motar. For years it has been a Japanese tradition to celebrate the New Year with mochi legend speaks of its power to prevent disasters.
According to Japan Air Self-Defense Force Maj. Gen. Tamotsu Kidono, 3rd Air Wing commander, the process of making this rice treat is considered difficult, and is done every year as a symbol of the teamwork and strong ties between America and Japan.
"We hold this party to maintain the good friendship with our community and U.S. Forces and to express our gratitude for their continued cooperation," said Kidono.
"My wife and I enjoyed sharing this holiday tradition with our Japan Air Self Defense Force counterparts," said Col. John Griffin, 35th Mission Support Group commander. "Being given the opportunity to eat and socialize is similar to celebrating New Years Day for Americans. I take pleasure in any opportunity to interact with our Japanese host."
For the rice cake to reach the right consistency, Japanese mochi-making volunteers had to constantly rotate the rice while it was being struck by a mallet at the same time. According to Rear Admiral Matthew Carter, 7th Fleet commander, this brought a sense of danger to the otherwise exhilarating event.
"The helpers were absolutely brave to stick their hands in between blows with me swinging the mallet," said Carter. "I would do it if I could tell the other person when to swing the mallet. That way I could make sure I was out of the way when they swung."
Participants not only made the mochi, but were able to enjoy it in four different ways. They had a chance of having it in a soup called zoni: with fish and vegetables, in a sweet red-bean soup, rolled in soybean flour or dipped in red-bean jam.
"There's an air of excitement at this event that makes me want to keep going every year," said Griffin. "Any opportunity to work along-side the Japanese community and understand their traditions is worth taking."