Mochi is made from two main ingredients: water, and mochigome, a short-grain, sticky rice that’s broken down and formed into a shape, usually a sphere. The formed rice ball can be eaten as is, flavored, or wrapped around ice cream or red bean paste, or with delicious toppings. In Japan, mochi is synonymous with celebration, and you’ll find many unique varieties and specialties during celebrations of New Year, spring, and other holidays throughout the year.
Mochitsuki: A New Year’s Mochi-Making Tradition
In Japanese culture, there is great pride in one’s work, represented by the non-translatable word monozukuri. This Japanese principle signifies a great joy in making something by hand, creating with much skill, dedication, and precision. Even in something as small as a ball of mochi, the Japanese exhibit monozukuri every step of the way. This is perfectly showcased with Mochitsuki, the New Year’s tradition centered around making mochi by hand annually between Dec. 25 and 28.
Mochitsuki involves “mochi-pounding,” where one person hand-mixes the rice dough and one person pounds it using a wooden mallet called akine. To begin, the sweet, glutinous rice is washed and then soaked for two days in advance before it’s steamed to a soft consistency. Once the rice is done, it’s transferred into a traditional Japanese mortar called an usu, where it is kneaded together into a glob of rice dough.