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Posted on Tue, Jan 4, 2011 : 6:12 a.m.

Mochitsuki Japanese New Year's celebration at U of M Center for Japanese Studies Saturday

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Mochitsuki is one of our family’s favorite activities of the year, steeped as it is in fond memories of family and food. The children and I start grinning geekily as soon as we hear the thump thump thump of the wooden kine (mallet) pounding rice in the giant wooden usu (mortar). Little Brother paints great black blobs every year at the kakizome station. Niu Niu outfolds the origami volunteers and hovers over the mochi samples. The older two teenagers find their nerdy friends at the manga area and draw together while eating boxes and boxes of Pocky. I love the formality of the kamishibai stories and the excitement of the taiko drummers.

Traditionally, Mochitsuki is held in the last few weeks of the calendar year as families come together for the big end-of-year rice cake-making to preserve just-harvested rice for winter and to make mochi for New Year’s Day ozone soup (which must be eaten first thing New Year’s morning). However, with so much of Ann Arbor away for winter break, even though the University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies Mochitsuki and Japanese New Year’s celebration is held at the beginning of January, it still feels like a coming together again, a coming home. Instead of being immersed in food and family gossip, we are immersed in food, music and Japanese culture. This is a fun event, and it has been a pleasure watching it grow over the last few years.

This year, Mochitsuki has outgrown its original space at the School of Social Work and will be held at the East Hall Math and Psychology Atriums, 530 Church St., Ann Arbor, on Saturday, Jan. 8 from 1 to 4 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, and families are welcome.

From the University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies website:

The event includes: mochi-making and taste-testing, live music with Miyabi (koto and piano) and Raion Taiko (, kakizome (New Year’s calligraphy), origami, kamishibai (Japanese storytelling), manga-drawing, games, and more.

This event is co-sponsored by the University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies, Subaru Research and Development, and the U-M Japan Student Association.

More information about this event in this Ann Arbor Observer article: Mochitsuki
Taking the (rice) cake

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at, her blog at, and she can be reached at