As the influence of Covid-19 envelopes the world, many are at home due to lockdowns. Here in Japan, an emergency declaration has been issued by the government asking citizens to refrain from non-essential and non-urgent travel and outings. With uncertainty in the air as to how long the situation will continue, I’m sure the majority of us are making various efforts to keep entertained at home.

In Ichinoseki City, located within the Kitakami site of Japan, we eat ‘mochi’, also known as Japanese rice cakes (not saying that most of us are spending our time eating mochi all day…)! In order to make sure that those coming from abroad aren’t surprised or confused by this food, I’m going to take it upon myself to provide a rundown on mochi before the ILC is realized! Here’s hoping that this article will assist in deepening your understanding of our local specialty and provide some entertainment in the meantime.

Mochi, which is made from ‘mochigome’, a glutinous type of rice, is rather difficult to explain as its unique squidgy, chewy, stretchy texture is unlike anything found in common western cuisine. Mochi began to be consumed in this region around 400 years ago during the Edo era. At the order of the lord of the Date clan who governed the region, it was customary to offer mochi to the gods on the 1st and 15th of every month and pray for peace. However, the poor farmers were unable to eat the proper mochi, and were eating a lower grade type called “Shiina mochi” which is a mixture of rice scraps and unsavory grain. The origin of our flourishing mochi culture came as a result of the efforts of those farmers trying to figure out how to eat ‘shiina mochi’ in more palatable ways. There are now around 300 variations, from traditional to contemporary mochi recipes. Mochi has also been garnering attention since Japanese cuisine was registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

A mochi platter

Mochi fondue!

Making mochi begins by pounding steamed glutinous rice with a pestle in a wooden mortar. Water is added and the mochi dough is constantly pounded and turned over until smooth. The process of pounding rice into mochi is called “mochitsuki”. In Ichinoseki, there are several mochitsuki groups that can be called on to perform demonstrations at events. Some of you may recall seeing one at the LCWS2016 banquet in Morioka.

Makin’ mochi

A performance put on by a local mochi-making group

Mochi-making at LCWS 2016

Ichinoseki City has numerous events related to mochi. Some of the larger ones include the ‘Mochi Festival’ where you can try dozens of different types of mochi, ‘Japan’s no.1 Mochi Pounding Contest’ where participating teams are judged on mochitsuki performance, the taste and arrangement of mochi and last but not least, the ‘Wanko Mochi Tournament’, where contestants compete to eat as many bite-sized mochi servings as they can within 5 minutes. So far this year, some events have been canceled due to Covid-19, but normally each of these events pull large crowds of people annually.

The Mochi Festival

Although I’m sure there are places where you can acquire mochi in your own countries or online, when the world overcomes Covid-19, we invite you to come to Ichinoseki for a real mochi making experience and to try some freshly made mochi (on top of checking out the Kitakami site of course…). If you can think of some interesting toppings or recipes to add to the 300 plus that exist to date, we would love to hear about them!






【写真: もち膳】

餅は、もち米を「つく」ことから始まるのですが、「つく」道具を杵と言います。臼と呼ばれる木でできた大きい器にもち米を入れ、杵でつきます。もち米をひっくり返したり水を加えたりしながら、ついていきます。この一連の動作を「もちつき」と言います。一関には、もちつきの実演を行う出張もちつき隊が複数あります。各種イベントなどで、もちつきパフォーマンスをしてくれます。皆さん覚えていらっしゃいますか?LCWS2016 in 盛岡のバンケットでも、もちつきパフォーマンスをしましたね。