UPDATE | Mochi tsuki tradition pulls in record crowd

Bing Kawasaki forms a piece of the mashed sweet rice into a mochi ball.   - Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review
Bing Kawasaki forms a piece of the mashed sweet rice into a mochi ball.
— image credit: Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review

For more than a thousand years, the making and eating of mochi — the soft treat made of mashed sweet rice — has been a New Year’s custom and tradition in Japan. And for 25 years, that tradition has found a new place of importance with the Bainbridge Island community.

The traditional New Year’s event, known as mochi tsuki, celebrated its 25th year on the island Sunday, Jan. 5 at IslandWood with demonstrations, activities, musical performances and record attendance.

“We hit 1,000 [visitors] in the first hour,” said Clarence Moriwaki, president of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Association and one of the lead event coordinators.

“I’m shocked. It was incredible,” he said. “The timing was perfect, the weather was great and the Seahawks don’t play again until next week.”

Moriwaki estimates the total number of guests and participants was more than 2,100 by the end of the day, shattering the previous best turnout of 1,800 from two years ago.

“It was really awesome,” Moriwaki said. “It’s really heartwarming. This started out as a small community event and what a wonderful thing that so many people come out and make this a family tradition.”

In addition to the chance to actually watch and assist with the traditional methods of mochi making, visitors to the event could also enjoy musical performances by the acclaimed Seattle taiko drum group Kokon Taiko, see models and renderings of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial and check out the award-winning education exhibit “Kodomo No Tameni - For the sake of the children,” as well as origami demonstrations.

“We’re going to need more origami teachers next year,” Moriwaki said, explaining that the new addition to the event proved more popular than expected, and long lines were formed by excited participants.

Mochi is made by first steaming sweet rice over an open fire and then placing the rice into a warmed stone bowl where it is mashed with large mallets by two or more people working rhythmically in turn. One agile person must use their hands to move and turn the rice between each mallet strike.

That brave soul was Shoichi Sugiyama, a returning fixture of the event.

He said his hand has never been hit.

The Bainbridge Island mochi tsuki is the largest free public event of its kind in the entire country, welcoming guests from around Kitsap County and even Seattle.

“It’s the community’s event now,” Moriwaki said of the tradition, comparing the event to the island’s Fourth of July celebration and the annual rotary auction.

“They just keep getting bigger.”

See a slideshow of the event here.


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