A Morning of Mochi
Azabu Gardens welcomes the New Year with a Japanese tradition
By Megan Casson
On a bright and crisp winter morning, guests of all ages gathered at the front entrance of Azabu Gardens to take part in the annual mochitsuki (Japanese rice cake making) event, held on January 19. An eager group of residents and guests had gathered together, ready to have fun, socialize, and enjoy the variety of food that was on offer.
Mochi is a rice cake that is traditionally pounded in a large wooden mortar called an usu with a large hammer called a kine. Usually one person swings the kine and another adds water to the mochi in between strikes, to ensure it doesn’t stick to the usu. Both adults and children lined up to take part in this venerable New Year’s activity, with many of the kids eager to try on a happi—a Japanese straight-sleeved coat—that Azabu Gardens provided. Adding to the excitement of the mochitsuki, staff members at the event chanted out “yoi-sho!” with each bang of the hammer. There were three differently sized hammers available, so little ones and grown-ups alike could all have a try at pummeling the mochi.
TIME TO FEAST
After tiring themselves out, guests began flocking to the food stands. Azabu Gardens provided a variety of different toppings, sauces, and seasonings for the mochi. The chocolate and cocoa powder topping was the most popular one with the children, as one boy’s messy grin and chocolate-covered face clearly showed. The traditional sweet bean paste and oroshi ponzu (citrus sauce with grated radish) was also in high demand. Classic Japanese toppings such as mitarashi (soy and sugar), soy sauce, and zunda (edamame paste) were available, as were some Western flavors such as strawberry, honey butter, and whipped cream.
Throughout the morning, the tonjiru (pork and vegetable soup) was simmering away, and steaming bowls of it were ready to be passed along to eager hands. Toddlers as young as one trundled around, wrapped up warm, sipping on the delicious soup and munching on the variety of vegetables that were in it.
There wasn’t just food at the event, but two different types of classic Japanese drinks. Amazake (a sweet, non-alcoholic Japanese beverage made from fermented rice) was there to keep the children cozy, and warm sake was there to keep the parents happy! Chatter and smiles were exchanged as the comfort provided by the warm food and drink encouraged conversation and cheerfulness. One woman gushed about how lovely it was to see all the children running around the green, contemporary buildings of Azabu Gardens together.
For the residents who attended the event, it was a great chance to talk, build ties with their neighbors, and to catch up on the year that had just passed.