Local

Japanese Americans gather at LA temple to make traditional New Year mochi

Volunteers and members of the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo make mochi from scratch on Friday morning as part of a Japanese New Year's Tradition.
Volunteers and members of the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo make mochi from scratch on Friday morning as part of a Japanese New Year's Tradition.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Volunteers and members of the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo make mochi from scratch on Friday morning as part of a Japanese New Year's Tradition.
Mrs. Okamoto, right, throws mochi down the table for volunteers to fill the white rice cake with sweet red bean.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Volunteers and members of the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo make mochi from scratch on Friday morning as part of a Japanese New Year's Tradition.
An estimated 200 pounds of rice cakes were produced on Friday. Volunteers made mochi filled with red bean, mochi that will be put into soup, and larger pieces of rice cake for the altar.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Volunteers and members of the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo make mochi from scratch on Friday morning as part of a Japanese New Year's Tradition.
Chieko Fujii, left, makes red bean mochi by hand. White rice is steamed, then pounded into a dough, and molded into round pieces by hand.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Volunteers and members of the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo make mochi from scratch on Friday morning as part of a Japanese New Year's Tradition.
Tomoyuki Hasegawa, left, helps 5-year-old Maxine Zermeno pound rice cake. Traditionally, rice is pounded into dough by hand, but modern-day machines can now do this.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Volunteers and members of the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo make mochi from scratch on Friday morning as part of a Japanese New Year's Tradition.
White rice is drained, then steamed for 45 minutes. Afterwards, the hot rice is poured into a machine that kneads it into dough.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Volunteers and members of the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo make mochi from scratch on Friday morning as part of a Japanese New Year's Tradition.
Grace Yamashiro molds a large piece of mochi, which will be stacked from largest to smallest for the altar.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Volunteers and members of the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo make mochi from scratch on Friday morning as part of a Japanese New Year's Tradition.
Rev. Janet Ito lays out mochi for the altar onto cooling trays. Temple members will return on Saturday to eat the rice cakes in soup.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Volunteers and members of the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo make mochi from scratch on Friday morning as part of a Japanese New Year's Tradition.
Red bean mochi lays out to cool. Volunteers will take home these smaller rice cakes.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Volunteers and members of the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo make mochi from scratch on Friday morning as part of a Japanese New Year's Tradition.
Gary Kanemoto pours rice pounded by machine onto a tray, where it will be broken up into small pieces and molded.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC


Listen to story

01:44
Download this story 0.0MB

Japanese Americans gathered at the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple on Friday to make mochi, a traditional celebration of the New Year.

About 70 people transformed 200 pounds of rice into the sweet rice cakes known as mochi. Besides eating the treats, the observant place mochi on temple altars to pay respect to the food that sustains us, said Trish Nicholson, a retired teacher who attends the temple.

“It’s just a really fun time,” said Nicholson, a third generation Japanese American. “A time for the children, the parents, the teenagers, everyone to just get their hands in on it, make the mochi, pound it.”

The process of making mochi is harder than it looks. First, participants soaked 200 pounds of sweet rice for a day. Then, the rice was taken in batches and steamed.

Afterward, the rice was placed into small machines that would knead it into sticky dough. Traditionally, the Japanese would pound the cooked rice into dough, said Shin Ito, who was watching the machines.

“This is 2012, so it’s automation,” Ito said. “There’s a machine that does that for you.”

Then, the sticky dough is passed along to other participants, who fluff and spin the dough by hand until it’s turned into a solid mass. The mass is taken apart into little pieces and passed to temple goers like Trish Nicholson, who make it into its final form.

Nicholson takes the small piece of dough and rolls it into a ball. Then she flattens it into a pancake and places a ball of red bean inside. Then, she closes it back up into a ball.

“This is one of my favorite activities of the year -- to come and make mochi for New Year’s,” Nicholson said. “It connects me to my roots to what people used to do in Japan and what my grandmother and my mother did. It keeps me close to my family.”