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

Mochi Making - 1

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.

Mochi Making - 2

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Mrs. Okamoto, right, throws mochi down the table for volunteers to fill the white rice cake with sweet red bean.

Mochi Making - 3

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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.

Mochi Making - 4

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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.

Mochi Making - 5

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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.

Mochi Making - 6

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

White rice is drained, then steamed for 45 minutes. Afterwards, the hot rice is poured into a machine that kneads it into dough.

Mochi Making - 7

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Grace Yamashiro molds a large piece of mochi, which will be stacked from largest to smallest for the altar.

Mochi Making - 8

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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.

Mochi Making - 9

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Red bean mochi lays out to cool. Volunteers will take home these smaller rice cakes.

Mochi Making - 10

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Gary Kanemoto pours rice pounded by machine onto a tray, where it will be broken up into small pieces and molded.

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.”

More in Local


blog comments powered by Disqus