The story of Mochi
This ancient Japanese festival elevates food combat to new heights. People from all walks of life compete for the most mochi and more than a little amount of pride in their pursuit of happiness and success.
When it comes to the legendary diversity of its culture, it appears that no other country can beat Japan. On the one hand, we envision Japan’s fetish-like eccentricities: maid uniforms shimmering against the towering UV lights of Akihabara, while the singing squid begs you to devour him with additional wasabi this time.
On the other hand, there’s the old Japan of sensibility: a solitary Sakura flower floating in a pond as flat as glass, surrounded by kimono-clad ladies. The Mochi Nage Matsuri, which takes place every spring at hundreds of Shinto temples around Japan and is virtually totally unknown outside of Japan, exhibits both aspects of Japanese culture.
A Story of Love and Mochi in Japan
The simple premise of this event is summed up nicely in its title Mochi Nage Matsuri, which translates loosely as ‘Mochi Throw Festival’. People of all ages from around the community will gather at the local shrine for a ceremony to bless the fertility and harvest of the following year.
After the priest has blessed a ceremonial plot of land and two bashful looking boys dressed as a cow are led over it, the atmosphere switches from one of quiet solemnity and contemplation to what can only be described as a frenzy. Suddenly, plastic bags and giant wooden baskets are produced out of nowhere and everyone begins to look upwards. Mochi, which are rice cakes pounded hard and flat and used in a variety of recipes, are thrown from a great height for the benefit of the packed crowds below, who dash about eagerly to collect as many as they can.
The Mochi are thought to bring pleasure and wealth in the coming seasons. However, they are also responsible for the deaths of around ten elderly adults each year, primarily as a result of choking on their sticky consistency. In light of this, it appears weird to see retirees battle tooth and nail through mud and pebbles to grab as many Mochi as they can.
Unwitting spectators who are new to the experience are eagerly brushed (or barged) out of the way by more seasoned players in their quest for that all-important first piece of Mochi. Those who lose their cool may be instantly punished by a piece of falling rice cake or the fist of an 80-year-old lady.
The fervor that drives both young and elderly to combat hungrily among flailing limbs is simply amazing. The festival lasts only a few days, but in that time, all people of the town are pulled together by a simple love of competition via this rich and magnificent tradition. And as the Mochi runs out and the dust settles, all signs of the fury vanish (apart from the odd bloodied lip). Friends come to compare injuries, while the victorious proudly display their Mochi hoard.
The holiday, like being slapped straight in the face with a piece of rice cake, can leave you dizzy and confused. The image of a packed-out temple being showered on by Mochi, on the other hand, is one you’ll never forget — and all survivors of the Mochi Nage know to wear their wounds proudly.