For any culture, the start of a new year is more than just the earth completing another journey around the sun. It marks a new vision, new goals and for those of Japanese descent it brings about an old tradition.
Sherman Kishi and the Livingston United Methodist Church share the Japanese tradition of Mochi-tsuki with the Central Valley every year.
Mochi-tsuki, or the pounding of rice to make mochi (rice cakes), is an important event in the Japanese culture in preparation for the New Year. The town of Livingston comes together to recognize and partake in this annually.
“I can remember when I was young in the 1930s and we used to go to our neighbors to pound the rice as a family group,” said Kishi.
Kishi explained that after the Japanese people returned to the Central Valley from relocation camps during the World War II years, the tradition was placed on hold until their children grew older.
“In the late '60s and '70s the youngsters decided to start this tradition again but then went to college,” said Kishi. “In the late '80s we started the event within the community church and then everyone could be involved. It’s also a great fundraiser for the church.”
There’s no wonder that the community gets involved, as the process of mochi-tsuki is not an easy task, but an eventful one at that.
“It takes us from eight in the morning until at least two in the afternoon,” said Kishi. “It’s a long, hard process of people working… But the more people the better.”
Mochi-tsuki is usually performed at the end of the year, from around Dec. 25-28 and the Livingston United Methodist Church observes this timing as well.
“It’s great because it’s right after Christmas when people are home visiting their families and they are able to help in the process of making the mochi,” said Kishi. “But also, they’re able to bring their children and continue to keep the custom alive.”
He explained the process to me as if it was a routine that he couldn’t forget if he tried.
“We do roughly 400 pounds of sweet rice, it’s not the ordinary rice, it’s much smaller grained and much more glutinous,” said Kishi. “We soak the 400 pounds for a night or two and everything is prepared during this period.”