Tuesday, December 31, 2013

BE About the Tradition - Japanese New Year - Slice of Life 2013

A Slice of Life is a weekly blog hosted by Two Writing Teachers, Ruth Ayers and Stacey Shubitz. Click on Two Writing Teachers to be taken to their website to learn more about this week's Slice of Life.
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I was raised by a Japanese American, emphasis on the American. Raised by a father who wanted his children to be loyal United States citizens, my dad ethnically represented Japanese but everything about him was about being "American". As his daughter, I grew up knowing very little about Japanese language, culture, foods, or traditions. It was not until in my 30s, when I was down in Los Angeles celebrating New Year's with my Aunt Suzye and Uncle Chuck, that I experienced the Japanese tradition of making mochi.

Mochi is Japanese rice cake made of mochigome, a sweet rice. We use a special rice cooker that steams the rice and then pounds it into a paste. While still hot, we mold the sticky rice paste into round cakes. Traditional rice pounding is a labor intensive process that involves two people taking turns physically pounding the rice with a wooden mallet while the other person "flips" the rice and wets it. There's a rhythm to it or someone can get hurt. I like my hands and fingers so I'll skip the traditional pounding and take the rice cooker. Thank you very much. :0)

In 2008, my dad brought my grandma's mochi rice cooker home with him from California-that was the year dad and I started making mochi together as our way of celebrating Japanese New Year. By 2009, dad had his cancer diagnosis and the time spent making mochi quickly became treasured time. When January 2010 arrived, I was 8 months pregnant and dad had already surpassed the timeframe that doctors had given him for his terminal cancer. Dad and I spent this time together knowing it would be our last (he died June 2010) Japanese New Year together and he wanted to make sure that I knew what to do to make mochi.

Today, was the third year making mochi without my dad. 

It's a bittersweet time, though, because this year, Maddie, just shy of four years old, is old enough to be genuinely interested in knowing what Mommy is doing. And, she wanted to be a part of things. This has been a new year where I particularly miss my dad because he would have loved having Maddie be a part of the activity. He would have loved even just watching her be a part of things. It was a HUGE gift he gave me making sure that I knew what to do, right down to knowing what rice to buy (he was particular about brands), so that I could build this as a tradition on my own with Maddie. It is now more than a time that I miss my dad. It is now a time to share wonderfully fun stories with Maddie about her Papa. It's my turn to show her what to do.

Thank you, Dad, for this wonderful tradition of mochi for Japanese New Year. 

Maddie helping me wash the rice to soak the night before.
Time to steam our first batch of rice.
Rice is finished steaming and now it's time for the rice to be "pounded".
Rice pounding!
Our first batch of mochi to welcome in 2014 - the Year of the Horse.
May each of you reading this have a prosperous 2014.
Happy New Year!!!

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