Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Rice Cake Fair

Every year in March, the students of Niigata Elementary School and their parents participate in the Rice Cake Fair. Mochi, or rice cakes, are made from a special variety of rice. The rice is first boiled, and the cooked rice is then placed in a large wooden mortar, the usu. The rice is subsequently pounded with a massive wooden pestle, the kine. When the rice becomes a heavy, glutinous mass, it is ready to enjoy. The school provided bean jam and soybean flour as toppings, and the children and adults speedily devoured what had taken considerable time and effort to produce. Mochi is commercially prepared by machine, the traditional laborious method being used only at festivals. Rice cakes are eaten year round but figure prominently at New Year's, when they are both consumed and used as decorations. The kagami mochi is a traditional mochi decoration as well as offering to the gods, and it consists of two or three rice cakes placed one atop the other. Though our own benighted age permits all manner of regrettable lapses, traditional usage stipulated that kagami mochi be displayed beginning December 28th. This was due to superstitious beliefs regarding auspicious dates for display, the nearest to January 1st being the 28th of the preceding month. Needless to say, such practices have long since fallen into disuse in this decadent era. When they are not being employed for sacred purposes, kagami mochi of plastic construction may be put to uses sartorial. Rice cakes are sometimes offered by shrines as New Year's gifts to visitors, a custom discontinued at Niigata's Yahiko Shrine after a stampede claimed 124 lives on Jaunuary 1st, 1956.

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