Good Luck is Hard Work

For many of us, familiarity with mochi is limited to ice-cream pockets sold at Trader Joe’s. Yet within Japanese culture, the soft rice cake is essential for a happy new year. These days, most folks settle for store-bought varieties because fresh mochi requires a village. First, the rice — as much as 900 pounds, depending on the size of the community — is soaked overnight and cooked; then, everyone gathers to pound the rice into paste, in a ceremony called "Mochitsuki." Typically, one person rolls and wets the mochi while another wields a giant wooden mallet. It’s back-breaking work, so everyone takes a turn — even the octogenarians give the mochi a thump. When the day is done and the mochi divided, everyone is responsible for everyone else’s good fortune in the coming year. Sadly, even the Japanese-American churches, which long kept the tradition alive, are at a loss for willing bodies. Enter Kagami Kai. For the past 20 years, this group of friends has found a way to share the camaraderie and joy of fresh mochi, using drums, traditional garb, and a rhythmic display of synchronized mallets. The group’s mochitsuki has the finesse of a show, but a luck-laden rice cake at its heart.
Sat., Jan. 14, noon, 2012

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