Today I attended my first Mochitsuki Matsuri (rice pounding festival), which was held at my local Shinto shrine, Shindaita hachiman Jinja. Mochi is a type of gelatinous rice cake that is used in a lot of Japanese sweets, and traditionally it is made in these rice pounding ceremonies. This process basically consists of a group of blokes pummelling the absolute bejesus out of some cooked rice using comically large mallets. After the group-hammering they take it in turns to smash the rice with an even bigger mallet, whilst one brave soul moistens the rice in between hits. It is very important that a steady rhythm is worked up, as otherwise the chap that is doing the moistening will have his hand pummelled. This very nearly happened on several occasions, but thankfully the only hands that were left decimated by the event were my own, my body’s circulation once again deciding that it couldn’t be bothered. Once the rice had been successfully pounded, and after a series of offerings to the god of the shrine, the mochi was combined with ‘an’ (a sweet red bean paste) and handed out to the queuing masses. I ate mine whilst standing next to an open fire, which had considerately been constructed in a small oil drum by the local firemen; I would have doffed my cap to these valiant heroes, but removing said item of clothing would almost certainly have caused my central nervous system to shut down.
Following an afternoon run I headed to my local Sento, craving the hot waters of the bath house like a malnourished child longs for food. Sadly it was shut, which in keeping with its bizarre opening hours was not actually that much of a surprise. And so it was that I traipsed home, consoling myself with a shower and the risk of an extremely loud warning siren screaming words that I could not hope to understand.