By Bill Roberts
Once a year, usually in December, Oomoto members in Okayama make mochi the old-fashioned way following their monthly religious service. It is their version of the homemade ice cream socials we had in the Methodist Church of my youth.
Mochi, which means rice ball, is a staple of Japanese cuisine. They make pasty dough from the rice then roll it into lumps larger than a golf ball but smaller than a tennis ball, usually with some kind of stuffing in the center. Sweet bean paste is a common filling. Sometimes they mash black soybeans or other ingredients with the rice and roll them all up together. Mochi can also be dried then grilled over charcoal to nice effect.
Mochi is not a natural taste bud pleaser for the Western palate. It is an acquired taste, in part because most mochi is made in a machine and sits in the store for sometime before it is bought and eaten. Fresh, homemade mochi is as different from store-bought mochi as fresh asparagus is from the canned variety.
The people of Oomoto believe part of their mission is to carry on traditional arts of all kinds that have long since been forgotten by most Japanese. So in Okayama, and elsewhere in Oomoto, they occasionally make mochi the old-fashioned way. Here’s how they do it.