As with tradition at Zenshuji in Los Angeles, before 6 a.m. on Dec. 28, the first mochitsuki crew arrives to start the burners for steaming the mochigome, sweet rice. The cleaned rice is placed in the worn wooden screen boxes and then stacked four-high over the burners. Steam clouds billow in the cold air. The rice must be ready by 7 a.m., when the priests chant prayers and ceremonially begin the pounding.

First, the kagamimochi are made from the hot, sticky rice. Two generous sized mochi patties are quickly pulled and shaped until smooth and shiny. Kagami mochi topped with a daidai orange will be the centerpiece for New Year’s Day.

Later, smaller mochi patties are made and sometimes filled with red bean paste. Both the plain and filled mochi are delicious fresh or can be heated or toasted the next day.

Untraditionally, because of the challenges of COVID, special precautions were taken this year. In addition to wearing masks and gloves, most of the mochi making was done outdoors using the patios, throughways and parking lot areas. Anticipating that COVID would discourage some of the volunteers to participate, the amount of rice pounded was reduced to 500 pounds. And arrangements were made for same-day pick-up of mochi orders by driving through the parking lot from 2 to 5 p.m.

All in all, mochitsuki allowed for an outdoor, socially distanced happy occasion to visit and work with friends and provide mochi for New Year’s. Everyone was grateful!

Photos courtesy AMY HONJIYO

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