What was once a treat eaten exclusively by Japanese nobles over one thousand years ago, is now a well-known snack enjoyed by millions around the world. The Utah State University (USU) Japan Club is continuing the Japanese tradition of celebrating the lunar New Year by preparing mochi, a sweet and chewy rice cake.
The production of mochi — Mochitsuki — involves pounding glutinous steamed rice into a paste, then molding the mochi into the desired shape. Using wooden mallets called kine, as used in the Japanese Yayoi Period(300BC-300AD), students worked in teams of two, with one student pounding the mochi and the other turning and wetting the mochi by hand. Students created unique chants as they pounded their kine, maintaining steady rhythm to prevent injury and keep the mochi from hardening. 2017 was the second year the club held a mochi-pounding event open to the public, after learning the tradition from a Japanese student attending USU last year.
There is a lot of interest in studying Japan among American students. Five universities in Utah have Japan Studies programs, including Utah State University in Logan, and University of Utah in Salt Lake City. In 2014, Japan ranked 7th as a Source of International Students for the US, with more than 200 students in Utah from Japan contributing $5 Million to the state’s Economy. There are currently 41 US-Japan sister city relationships, the highest number either country has around the world. The strong community and people-to-people connection between US-Japan is further reflected by the 3,000 Japanese Cherry Blossom trees gifted to Washington DC from Tokyo in 1912. One of these Japanese Cherry Blossom trees is located in Salt Lake City, Utah.
USU Japan Club is looking forward to holding future events, including the Japanese Setsubun festival in the spring season and White Day celebration in March.
Alison Ma is a University of Sydney Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington DC.