上西満腹会:餅搗き – Kaminishi Picnic: Making Mochi

Another Wednesday, another random opportunity to do something not included in an English curriculum.  This time around, after lunch it was planned for the whole school to go to the Kaminishi community picnic.  I had participated in one of these back in the summer, and it was great.  Having the opportunity to do it again while on the clock was fine by me.  More than just an opportunity for face time with the community, today we would be making mochi through the process of mochitsuki.  Mochi is a rice paste desert which is made by pounding the snot out of boiled rice.  I did in my first autumn at Shionoe Elementary as well, which was a lot of fun.  The practice has been outdated by modernization and technology, though it still remains in these settings.  A couple times throughout the day, I was interviewed by some newspaper journalist who was keen on a foreigner’s take on all this.

We had a couple of these massive mortar and pestle sets kneading a few different flavors.  Japanese green tea, and a semi-sweet azuki bean are common compliments to this treat.  The kids were all getting into it too, doing their best.  Sadly, the youngest was sick that day, so I didn’t get a chance to see her attempt to wield something larger than she herself.  Eventually the turn came to me, and I utterly lambasted it.  Without even going all out, my blows were going deep enough into the mochi that the massive log basin it was in would rise while retracting the mallet.  Felt pretty good, but it was all over too soon.  The last part of the preparation process involved all the little old ladies tearing off nuggets of the heavy substance and forming small mounds.  Finally, these were consumed after spritzing them with soy sauce & daikon, or mushroom powder.  It isn’t a particularly sweet dish, and is definitely not my favorite, but mochi is a major component of Japanese sweets.

The second half of the event was gathering in a very old schoolhouse to do a little performance on the stage.  This building was originally the Kaminishi Middle School, though it became a preschool over 50 years ago due to declining numbers.  That too closed down, and now it only serves as the occasional gathering spot for the community.  I enjoy exploring these kinds of old places, so I was certainly pleased to get inside.  After eating, the students performed a couple songs, skits, and a little comedy piece as well.  I was asked to join in the comedy, called Rakugo, where I would introduce myself and also tell a little joke.  It’s always nice to see the community coming out to support the children, and I too like to see them perform their various pieces.  Usually they learn something and perform it a couple times, which offers me the opportunity to see each a few times.

They weren’t really clear about what I had to say when, so I had my hesitations.  The joke was just a pun asking a similarity between English and seafood.  ‘AB’ and ‘ebi’ (Japanese word for shrimp) sound similar.  Puns are about as amusing here as anywhere else in the world…

One of the songs from the performance was called Furusato, which means hometown, and praised the different facets of living in the mountain town.  This is an old song from the Kaminishi branch of schools, and will likely die when they consolidate and close the last school.  I was happy to get a copy of it.

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