As we prepare to head out to celebrate New Year's Eve, I got to thinking about last year's celebration and the making of mochi. It was a bit after midnight. No sooner had the bell finished its 108th toll, releasing the several hundred thousand people assembled from the burden of the 108 possible sins, than another sound emerged from behind the belfry at Zojoji shrine in Shiba Koen. This was the sound of mochi being pounded and everyone got to take a whack.
As with many foods that are fun to create, the making of mochi combines simple ingredients, exotic tools, and an element of danger. First, rice is steamed to a virtual mush then loaded into a large wooden bucket. Next, up to three people at a time take turns beating the rice down with large wooden mallets. An intrepid mochi flipper sticks his hand in there from time to time to move the thickening mochi around and make sure it is pounded evenly. Care must be taken not to hit the sides of the bucket in order to avoid leaving splinters. On this occasion, the nearly completed mochi was transferred to a smooth stone bowl and pounded some more to finish it off. Everyone was invited to sample a bit when it was done.
This year we will be going to Ana Hachimangu for New Year's, then to Kumano Jinja on January 14th for their mochi ceremony. Their signature flavor is kinako, sweet mochi dusted with a special soybean flour.