Japanese club celebrates new year with mochi, taiko

2013-01-05T20:57:00Z 2013-12-12T13:07:01Z Japanese club celebrates new year with mochi, taikoKERANA TODOROV Napa Valley Register
January 05, 2013 8:57 pm  • 

As sweet rice steamed at the Grange Hall on Hagen Road Saturday under the watchful eye of Hideko Sugiyama, volunteers stood ready outside to pound it with mallets into rice patties — or “mochi” — to the beat of a drum.

The traditional mochi making, during which two people use the mallets to pound rice placed in a wooden urn or “usu,” was one of the attractions the Napa Tomodachi (Friendship) Club organized Saturday to mark the new year. The event, which was attended by more than 40 club members and guests, was also celebrated with a potluck and taiko drumming.

“It’s just a time for celebration,” said Anne Uemura of Napa, a Tomodachi Club member who played taiko with other drummers from Napa and Fairfield.

The New Year’s event has been the club’s best-attended event since its founding more than a decade ago.

“It’s been one event that brings people old and new (to the group),” Uemura said.

Seven families soaked and pre-steamed a total of 25 pounds of sweet rice for more than 200 mochi patties, treats that can be eaten with a sweet bean paste.

Lori Hunt volunteered at the event with her sister, Linda Clark of Suisun City. Their mother, Shimeko, is from Japan.

“You’re supposed to eat mochi on New Year’s Day,” said Hunt, an attorney in Napa. “At least, that’s what I’ve been told.”

She just likes to eat it, she added. So does her father, Ernie Hunt, who also lives in Suisun City.

“My record is 24,” said Ernie Hunt, 77, a retired chief quartermaster in the U.S. Navy and former sumo wrestler. “Now my wife restricts me to six mochis at a time,” he added as he watched his son-in-law, Curtis Clark, pound mochi with Dalfred “Dal” Ross of Napa.

Jamila Johnson, a nurse in Fairfield, came with her husband, Reid, and their children Brinden, 5, and Aiyanna, 3. Johnson, whose mother was from Japan, grew up eating mochi for New Year’s celebrations.

She enjoys coming to Tomodachi Club events, Johnson said.

“It’s a very informal thing that we do. It’s family and friends. We all get to know each other,” she said as she carried a plate of mochi to be eaten with “natto,” or Japanese soybeans.

“It’s super fresh. It’s nothing like you get in the store, I can tell you that,” she said as she left with her family, having purchased seven mochis for $5.

“Everything (about Japanese culture) is an art, from the music to the food,” Johnson noted. “Everything has to be a certain way.”

The Tomodachi Club is a social group formed in the late 1990s for anyone interested in Japanese culture.

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