by Yuan Luo

Sunday, December 20th was an unusual Sunday for me. I was riding down to the south of Kumamoto with the YWCA team not knowing exactly where I was going. Three hours later, we arrived on a spacious property surrounded by wide rice fields. I couldn’t help but notice how empty the area looked. The area was heavily affected by the flooding this year. I was glad to be able to help even a little bit. We cleaned the windows and the walls of what seemed like the main house. 

Around lunch time, Mr. Okaki (the host of his property) brought out a basket of freshly cooked mochi rice, and called everyone around. The rice was first mixed and mashed manually. Then two other people brought out wooden hammers and started hammering the giant rice ball at a coordinated beat. I was lucky to get a chance to hammer the giant rice ball too. Everyone around was helping out by shouting 1, 2, 3 to stabilize the rhythm. The giant rice ball soon turned into a giant ball of mochi. However, it is not quite yet the mochi we usually see. Mrs. Okaki showed us the next step in preparing the traditional Japanese mochi. The giant mochi ball was carried into a bowl sprinkled with mochi powder, and then separated into small pieces by Mrs Okaki. The rest of us molded these pieces into dome-like shapes, which is typical of the area. Finally, the mochi pieces were served with different toppings such as natto, sweet red beans, shredded daikon, kinako and coconut powder mixed with brown sugar. Once I had a round of all topping styles, I was already way past the golden rule of hara hachi bun. Unfortunately for me, a giant vegetable soup was still simmering on the fire. Since I could not resist the delicious smell emerging from that soup, I still took a generous portion. It turns out that the warm soup actually helped me digest the dense mochi balls that I had just eaten. The lunch happened in a convivial atmosphere in the presence of our lovely hosts. Mrs Okaki talked about the flood and her life with me. However, I could not quite understand everything she said due to my poor Japanese. What I did understand though, is that a smile and a kind gesture will always be the universal language.

This visit turned out to be more jovial and fun than I would have expected. The kindness and resilience of these people marked me in many ways. I have always admired people like Mr and Mrs Okaki- despite their own misfortune, they are always spreading happiness to anyone around them. Thank you so much for hosting us for this wonderful mochitsuki experience!

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