Today a group of us attended the annual mochitsuki festival at my local shrine, Shindaita Hachiman Jinja. Mochitsuki basically involves the pounding of mocha (rice cakes) with a giant hammer; with people taking to turns to batter the hell out of what is essentially a pile of wet rice. An essential participant in the pounding is the person assisting who quickly darts their hand into the bowl and turns the rice before the next rhythmic pound. Needless to say this is not a job for the faint hearted, especially when some of the hammer wielders weigh in excess of a couple of hundred pounds and appear to be very much the worse for wear. There were a couple of moments when I genuinely could not bear to watch, but thankfully the only injury occurred to one of the beaters pride when he smashed himself during the upstroke of a particularly vicious swing in a perfect moment of Schadenfreude.
When they let the local kids loose with the hammer I decided that the time was right to go and queue up for the mochi, which after being pummeled into shape was served to the general public with lashings of An (a sweet red bean paste). Sadly there was a basher stood at the end of the queue informing us that from this point on he could no longer guarantee the supply of any mochi. I thus attempted to engage him in conversation, and whilst I stopped short of saying that I had specifically come to Japan to participate in today’s festival, I didn’t say that this was not the case. There actually turned out to be enough mocha for me to have a couple of helpings, with enough An to mask the bitterness of my fabrications.