Once upon a time in Japan, the making of mochi was not performed by automated machines, but rather by people using large wooden mallets/hammers to pound rice in heavy-duty granite bowls. Pounding was performed to a rhythm, pulverizing the rice into delicious submission. Though mochi machines now exist, my family continues the old tradition with the start of each new year because pounding your food with huge wooden hammers is awesome. And besides, as any rice cake connoisseur worth his shoyu will attest, mochi tastes better with a bit of sweat and little wooden slivers in it.
The hammers are made of wood, and soaked beforehand, though if they make contact with the granite bowl, they will splinter. Breaking the handle is also easy to do, if it strikes the bowl. You can see the rice steaming in an old school wooden box in the background. Doneness is ascertained by smooshing a grain of rice between the fingers to check hardness.
Pounding must be done in coordination with your partners, and usually the tempo is controlled by he who wields the shamoji.
In olden days, the maidens of rural Japanese households were expected to take up arms against any enemies who threatened the village while the men were away. It is said that blood ingrained into the mochi hammer helps to impart a desirable quality found only in the highest grade of rice cake.
She missed the bowl completely shortly after this was taken.
This is a chance for fathers to show their sons how manly they are. Loud grunts and smacks = good parenting.
I have no idea how my aunt was able to swing the hammer so hard while laughing. For some reason, I find this terrifying.
My dad putting the smack down.
Yumi and Kohei making the big wad of rice cake into smaller cakes.
This is the son’s chance to play whack-a-mole with the father’s thumbs!
Maybe we should give the little ones quarter sledge-sized mallets, but until that time a tandem session will have to do.
Here’s Wes, about to bring down the wrath.
These brothers efficiently assault the mochi. As Sean bludgeons away at it, Susumu taunts the rice cake. Susumu’s other job in this process is to reach in the bowl and position the bolus of smashed rice in such a way that it is exposed to maximum blunt force impact from the hammer. As the cadence of the blows can reach a fevered pitch, I am amazed that his hands remain unblemished, and the mochi white.
And as the last of rice is dispatched of, we all head in and pig out on amazing food and share in good company. Happy 2013, everybody!