Mochitsuki and Mochi Honzen Experiences to Immerse Yourself in Mochi Gastronomy
Thump, thump, thump… This is the sound of steamed sticky rice pounded in a large mortar with a wooden mallet. With this pleasant sound, the rice rapidly turns into rice cakes, or mochi. It is fun to watch this visually-entertaining traditional Japanese practice of mochitsuki, but you can also experience it in the Ichinoseki-Hiraizumi area of the Tohoku district. Dubbed the “leading mochi producer in Japan” due to its wide variety of rice cake dishes, the area boasts a Rice Cake Gastronomy that dates back to the Edo period. Here, you can savor a broad range of rice cake dishes, as presented in the traditional mochi honzen, or a full-course ritual meal. Here is how you can obtain first-hand experience in Rice Cake Gastronomy typical of the Ichinoseki-Hiraizumi area.
Experience mochitsuki, a typical Japanese practice
In Ichinoseki and Hiraizumi, people still perform the traditional practice of making and offering rice cakes to their guests. Even now, they believe that filling their guests with rice cakes is the best form of hospitality. In other words, mochitsuki is a token of welcome to one’s guests. For a visitor, it is a highlight of this area. Now that you are here in Japan, you have the chance to experience making rice cakes yourself. Sekinoichi Shuzo is one of the places where you can go for this experience. This traditional brewery, which dates back to the Edo period, mainly produces sake and beer. It also has a rice cake restaurant where you can make a reservation for a mochitsuki experience.
And this is how mochitsuki works. First, you put steamed sticky rice into a wooden mortar and pound it with a pole-like mallet known as senbongine. This requires a substantial amount of energy as the sticky rice becomes even stickier as you pound it. But the experience becomes even more fun as you get the timing right with ainote. Ainote is your partner. She quickly turns the sticky rice over while you are pulling up the mallet to pound it. She plays an essential part in mochitsuki with a series of highly skilled movements like a craftsman.
One of the crucial functions of ainote is to put water on her hands from time to time in order to adjust the moisture of mochi and thus prevent it from sticking to the mortar or mallet. She has a unique way of working, singing a mochitsuki song that is part of local tradition.
Feasting on mochi honzen
You will surely enjoy tasting rice cake dishes after experiencing mochitsuki. They say that Rice Cake Gastronomy unique to Ichinoseki and Hiraizumi originates from the Date clan. Rice cake dishes might taste different when you know something about their history. Mochi honzen, initiated by Date Masamune, founder of the Date clan, is a full-course meal for celebration using mochi instead of rice. It has survived to this day as the ultimate cuisine for entertainment to add splendor to formal ceremonial occasions. Mochi honzen also has its own rules of behavior and manners for eating. You will have to learn about the formal rules with the help of otorimochi, or a facilitator.
In general, mochi honzen comprises four rice cake dishes: a soup and three distinct preparations.
On the small lacquered table, you will find rice cake dishes arranged with bean paste, walnut paste or sesame paste, and a bowl of zoni, or rice cake soup with vegetable ingredients, accompanied by Japanese pickles and grated white radish. They look beautiful. At the center is takuan, common Japanese white radish pickles. You can eat takuan whenever you like, but you have to leave a piece to the end, because the rules of etiquette require that you clean the bowls with takuan after you have finished eating the rice cakes.
Typically, rice cakes stretch this way as you eat them. You can savor them in both sweet and savory dishes. Mochi definitely makes your stomach full because it is made of rice.
Rice cakes as a means of communication
People in Ichinoseki and Hiraizumi have a Rice Cake Calendar to tell them when to make and eat mochi throughout the year. According to the Calendar, the residents eat rice cakes on more than 60 days of the year. The practice of taking every opportunity to make rice cakes has served as an important means of communication to strengthen family and community ties. When you visit this area, it is highly recommended that you experience mochitsuki and mochi honzen as a starting point for getting to know more about the local culture.