For 2013, the festival committee chose the theme Mochi; a Japanese rice cake made of glutinous rice (not to be confused with gluten) pounded into paste and molded into the desired shape. In Japan it is traditionally made in a ceremony called mochitsuki. While also eaten year-round, mochi is a traditional food for the Japanese New Year and is commonly sold and eaten during that time.
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More about Mochi (submitted by Rev. Koho Takata, The Arizona Buddhist Temple)
In the olden days in Japan, rice was very precious. It was not only a staple food, but it was also used as currency. The feudal lords were ranked according to the amount of the rice they controlled and possessed. Samurai were not fully paid by money, gold, or silver, but in fixed amounts of rice. Ironically the farmers who produced the rice almost never could eat enough of the rice.
Rice was very precious for everyone. This is why Buddhists offer the precious rice to Amida Buddha, Shinran Shonin, and Rennyo Shonin. Even though the time has changed and we can easily purchase the rice at the store, they do not forget the preciousness of the rice. When I was a child, I always ate the offering of rice after the morning service. My parents and grandparents scolded me if I left even a grain of rice in my rice bowl. I was always reminded of expressing appreciation to the rice for its sacrificed rice, the farmer who produces the rice, and the Buddha who guides to realize my life encompassed by Infinite Light and Life.
On the special occasion such as New Year’s Day, we offer the mochi instead of the rice. This is why Arizona Buddhist Temple holds a mochi sale at the end of the year for offering the freshly cooked mochi to the temple altar and your family altar. After offering the mochi, we usually eat the mochi as Zoni (mochi soup) or Zenzai.
When I was in Hawaii, I have received some questions from members regarding mochi for the New Year. The most questions I have received were the time of offering the mochi. It is very simple. When you wake up in the morning on the New Year’s Day, you can offer the mochi in your family altar. Then, you can have a New Year’s Day Service with your family in front of your family altar. I was also made to realize by some of members’ replies to the above question that they offer the mochi not only in their altar, but also place in their each room, car, office, etc.
Mochi is not for a good luck. They probably pray not to have any accidents by placing mochi in their cars. They wish to have good businesses by placing mochi in their offices. They wish to live healthy by placing mochi in their rooms. However, even though you pray for such things by placing mochi on the certain places on the New Year’s Day, it does not have any effect at all. Even if we do pray for good luck by putting mochi in certain area, it does not go as we wish. The purpose of offering of mochi to your family altar is for expressing our appreciation for the guidance of Amida Buddha throughout the year and nothing else.
I also realized by another question that they throw away the mochi after offering to the Buddha at their family altars, and placing mochi in their rooms, cars, offices, etc. When I heard about it, I felt very sad. We may think that it is just rice or mochi rice. However, even though it is rice, they are living beings. Their lives are equal to our lives. They sacrifice their lives to sustain our lives. We see the rice by our self-centered eyes so that we may not realize about it. However, we should not forget the preciousness of their lives.
Also, the rice is cultivated by farmers. But, actually it is not only by farmers, but he rice was also nurtured and sustained by nature such as sun, rain, wind, etc. When we have a mochi sale, some of members donate the mochi rice. Also, we spend our money to purchase the mochi. If we throw away the mochi, it is like we throw away our money. On the day of mochi making, members come to the temple in the early morning to make fire to steam the mochi rice. Then, they grind the steamed mochi rice to make mochi. Ladies work very hard to make a piece of mochi and Kazari mochi. Please take a moment to think about all those efforts made by farmers, nature, our members, and friends. Let us realize the true meaning of offering and appreciate the interdependency of all lives and welcome the New Year with full of gratitude and appreciation to Amida Buddha, Infinite Light and Life, who encompassing all lives.