A visitor to last year’s event takes a turn at pounding rice into mochi. (Luciano Marano | The Bainbridge Review)

A visitor to last year’s event takes a turn at pounding rice into mochi. (Luciano Marano | The Bainbridge Review)

Mochi Tsuki returns to IslandWood for New Year’s

Celebrate the arrival of 2018 with the return of a timeless island tradition: the 29th annual Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community’s mochi tsuki.

The big event is from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 7 at IslandWood (4450 Blakely Ave. NE).

The celebration is one of the nation’s longest-running public mochi tsuki (moe-chee zu-key) events.

New to the festival this year, intended to help ensure a pleasant experience for all by reducing wait lines and to manage crowds, a limited number of free admission tickets for the event and taiko performances will be available on a first-come, first-reserved basis.

Register on-line at www.islandwood.org.

The event is free, though donations for mochi are welcome.

Parking is limited at the site, and also the nearby Blakley Elementary School, so carpooling is strongly encouraged.

For over a millennium, making and eating the sweet rice treat mochi has been a celebrated New Year’s tradition in Japan, with generations of families and communities coming together to wish good health and prosperity for the new year.

BIJAC members will prepare some batches of mochi in the centuries-old method of first steaming the sweet rice over an open fire, then placing the cooked rice into a warm stone or concrete bowl called an usu. Using large wooden mallets, two people rhythmically pound the rice in the usu, while with bare hands a third person swiftly moves the rice between each mallet crash.

After several minutes of vigorous pounding, the rice becomes a thick, smooth dough — mochi. From manual pounding in the usu or special mochi-making appliances, the mochi is removed and children of all ages hand form the steaming-hot mochi into small handball-sized cakes, filling some of them with a sweet bean paste called ahn.

While arguably mochi is best eaten hot and fresh, many enjoy roasting it in the oven, then dipping the puffy and crisp hot mochi cakes into a combination of sugar and soy sauce. For future enjoyment, mochi can be frozen in airtight bags.

Festival highlights include performances from the acclaimed Seattle taiko drum group Kokon Taiko, whose three energetic performances will be held at noon, 1:30 and 3 p.m.

The award-winning historical exhibit “Kodomo No Tameni – For the sake of the children” and a video and images of Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial “Nidoto Nai Yoni – Let It Not Happen Again” National Historic Site will be on display, as well as the chance to learn origami, the art of Japanese paper folding.

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