Do you remember the song that goes:
Planting rice is never fun
Bent from morn till the end of sun
Cannot stand and cannot sit
Cannot rest for a little bit
This is the English version of the Filipino song, “Magtanim ay Di Biro.” Literally, in English it means, “Planting is no joke.” It tells about how hard it is for people to plant rice, because one has to bend the whole time while doing this. And in case you’re wondering, yes, planting rice is still done manually in the Philippines. Here in Japan, I don’t see anyone doing that anymore; the machines have replaced manual labor in the fields.
This song comes to mind because last week, my husband and I brought our daughter to her very first “Mochitsuki Taikai.” This was an event organized by the city’s public daycares. It was not required for the children to attend, but we thought it might be fun to have our daughter experience this unique opportunity. Mochi is a Japanese rice cake made of glutinous rice (what we call “malagkit” in Tagalog), pounded into a really gooey paste, and molded into shape. Flavoring is added to the mochi afterwards. It’s quite similar to our suman – a native Filipino delicacy – we usually dip it into some sugar to sweeten it. Mochitsuki refers to the ceremony of making mochi. Taikai – well, this is the Japanese word for tournament or mass meeting. I didn’t think that it referred to any tournament in any sense, so I took it to mean something close to the second definition. Anyway, my very first experience of mochitsuki was at my sensei’s place, where everyone from our lab participated. It was fun pounding away at the rice, but believe me, it was hard work! It’s quite interesting for me because hey, how often do you attend something where the main event is pounding rice? It would be akin to Filipinos organizing a group event just to make suman.
The event was held at Yukari no Mori, a nature center of sorts where people can go camping, barbecuing, or simply commune with nature.
When we arrived, the place was already abuzz with rowdy children and their parents. The senseis were busy with the reception, cooking, and preparations. Apparently the glutinous rice had already been prepared earlier, and so participants would only need to do the rice pounding using the traditional wooden mallet and mortar. While waiting, the children were gathered for some story-telling from the sensei.
Aside from the coated mochi, we were also treated to a nice hot soup with lots of vegetables, minute amounts of chicken, and of course, mochi. Perfect for the cold.
I was kind of worried that Aya would have trouble eating the mochi. But when we were not looking, she actually finished everything on her plate! My worry about mochi is that it is quite sticky, and if you’re not careful, you can actually choke on it. I heard that people (usually the elderly) actually choked on mochi and died. Apparently, a vacuum cleaner is more effective in dislodging the mochi from people’s throats because the Heimlich maneuver does not work. I hate to think of the possibility of sucking out sticky rice cake out of my daughter’s throat using a vacuum cleaner that has been to heaven knows where. Yikes. Anyway, I didn’t have to worry about it after all because I also noticed that the mochi wasn’t as sticky as I thought it would be. The organizers probably made it less sticky than usual in consideration of the children.
We were able to take home with us some goodies back home, because apparently some people who earlier signed up failed to attend the event. It was quite windy that day, and the supposed games later in the afternoon were cancelled. Because of the wind, in spite of the sunny weather, it got too cold for comfort.
When we got home, Aya gobbled everything up, and didn’t even leave any for us. Di naman siya masyadong mahilig sa mochi ano? 😛