Mochi is steamed and pounded rice, shaped usually into balls and then accompanied by some other substance for taste. It can be sweet or savory, served by itself or in soup or on a stick--very versatile! Eaten all year round, it is especially prepared for New Year's celebrations. Mochi is sticky and glutinous and results in a number of deaths by choking each New Year's Day. At the last count for 1999's celebrations, it had claimed the lives of 10 people in Japan, mostly senior citizens. I myself have nearly choked on some sweet walnut mochi (ummm, good stuff!). Mochi is very difficult to remove from the throat so it is best to have a vacuum cleaner handy when partaking. No kidding!

Above: Poised! The steaming has taken place over the previous several hours, and now it is time for the pounding. This showcases the traditional method of pot and mallet, with one person swinging and one person working the mochi between strikes.
Above right: Strike! These boys are well-practiced pros, but here's the catch: other people can line up and try their own hand at the mallet.
Right: Watch out! As volunteers line up to take a swing, our old pro here is putting his hands in the pot. Not to worry when a senior citizen or young child takes a shot, but if someone more vigorous steps up, you better watch those hands!

Next: What the hell is that smell?

A Japanese New Year

Copyright © 1999 by Ed Kaspar
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