Oshogatsu is the Japanese New Year. One way that Japanese celebrate New Year is making and eating mochi. We've recently joined up with the Kobe ward, and yesterday they were making mochi for oshogatsu. We've always been curious about it, so we went to the church to join in the fun.
First you have a wooden bowl and mallets that are heated with scalding hot water to keep them at a constant temperature while pounding the rice, and also to keep them from sticking to the rice, I imagine. A special kind of extra-sticky rice is cooked and then placed in the bowl.
Mike wielding his mallet
The rice is then pounded with mallets into a sticky, somewhat gelatinous mass. We were told it is good for couples to pound together, so Mike and I went at it.
Then the kids took a turn.
After the rice is sufficiently pounded, it is coated in corn or potato starch and formed into soft little cakes - often filled with sweet bean or some other filling. The ones at the church were filled with sweet bean and strawberries. (We requested some with only strawberries for the kids!) There was also mochi with ginger, some coated with a soybean powder and sugar, and some wrapped around cheese, dipped in soy sauce and wrapped in seaweed. We actually liked it plain, but the Japanese people thought that was strange!
The really good mochi pounders get into a nice pounding rhythm. Mike, Chris, and Bro. Mizuno give us a nice demonstration: