Some people pound drinks on New Year’s. In Japanese tradition, there’s the literal pounding — with giant hammers — of rice around the end of each year, and it can carry a spiritual dynamic.
In Japan and among Japanese-Americans, it’s common around New Year’s Day to take wooden mallets and pummel rice — already soaked, steamed and softened — into sticky rice cakes.
They’re called mochi, and the event is called mochi-tsuki — “tsuki” in Japanese referring to pounding or thrusting.
While it’s often seen as a fun if not laborious social gathering, there can be a spiritual component — with the finished product sometimes “presented” to spirits in the Shinto tradition, left on grave sites of family members and consumed by the living to secure “good health and fortune” for the coming year.
At the Midwest Buddhist Temple in Chicago, a mochi-tsuki was held just before the new year. About 300 people showed up for the festive event, which the Near North Side temple has hosted for more than 50 years.
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