|© Frances Kai-Hwa Wang|
As I walk with my four kids into the U-M Center for Japanese Studies, we are heartened by the thump thump thump of the kine hitting the rice in the usu. It reminds us of the burly farmhands with whom we used to celebrate Mochitsuki many years ago. The girls start giggling, though, when they see who’s grasping the wooden mallets: skinny little professors who seem unable to capture the rhythm of pounding in a large wooden mortar.
Mochi is a pounded rice cake, and Mochitsuki is the traditional rice cake making that happens at the end of every year to preserve just-harvested rice for the winter. New Year’s Day (Oshogatsu, celebrated January 1) is a really big deal in Japan and in Japanese American communities, full of food and family and friends. When we used to spend our Christmas holidays in California, our New Year’s Days were spent visiting one Japanese American friend’s home after the other, eating our way across town. Now, deep in the January snow, in the quiet of this college town’s New Year’s season, we are revitalized by the warmth and hubbub of this annual celebration. (This year’s Mochitsuki celebration is on Saturday, January 10," in the International Institute Gallery in the U-M’s School of Social Work Building.)
My two middle schoolers find their friends from Japanese class and hang out on the fringes, eating Pocky sticks and talking about manga. Occasionally they will deign to help their younger siblings with a particularly difficult origami, but they are too cool to reveal any excitement.
Nevertheless, they were as amazed as I was one year when a professor from the U-M department of Asian languages and cultures took a brush as big as a mop, dipped it in a giant pot of black ink, and with a loud “Hai!” slammed the brush onto a sheet of paper larger than she, and in one fluid stroke, both hands on the brush, wrote one
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