Dispatches

Cleaning the wooden mortar used for making mochi

Dispatch № 105: A Perfect Day for Pounding Rice

Once again, I couldn’t find the place. This has happened every year for at least five years. My friend’s parents’ house is adjacent to a local elementary school, and I was by an elementary school, but the streets were all wrong.

For more than forty years, they have held a mochi party every December thirtieth. Glutinous rice is steamed on a wood stove and put into a huge mortar, where it is pounded with a heavy wooden hammer until it reaches a smooth, sticky consistency. People have drinks, pound mochi, eat mochi, and enjoy the late morning and early afternoon engaged in the sort of relaxed conversation that only seems to come after the year’s work has concluded.

And almost every year since moving to Japan, I have attended this party (though only after getting lost and having to ask for directions). This year, the difference was that I finally figured out the navigational problem: it turns out there are two elementary schools in the area, separated by a few hundred meters, and I had been using the wrong one as my guidepost.

Though I was sorry for arriving nearly an hour late, it was a beautiful morning, perfect for a meandering walk on quiet residential streets. The weather is, in fact, beautiful almost every year. My friend can only recall one time in all these years that it was ever rained out.

The scene was comfortingly familiar when I got there, though with fewer people than in past years. I said my initial hellos, gave the bottle of shochu I had brought to the hosts, and joined the party.

The air was cold and crisp, filled with the sounds of easy conversation and the rhythmic, sticky thuds of rice being pounded into mochi. Billows of steam and wood smoke mixed together and rose toward the unblemished azure sky.

NB: I was too relaxed and didn’t do a very good job of documenting things (and honestly never planned to), but next year intend to do it properly, so look for that on the blog in a year. Additionally, I will have additional photos coming, which may be appended here, and will show up in the image galleries I’ll be adding as I expand the site next year.


And that’s a wrap for 2021! Thank you so very much for joining me on this first, year-long section of an ongoing writing project. To date, I have published more than 46,000 words, and it’s really only the beginning. In 2022, the podcast version of this year’s posts will launch, the Dispatches will continue (though at a lower frequency), and a whole new project will launch for 2022 and 2023. Expect an announcement in early January.


If you like what I’m doing, please consider directly supporting this project for as little as $3/mo on Patreon. The upcoming podcast version of Somewhere in Japan will be available to patrons before the general public, too. Click here to learn more.

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