KIN TOWN, Japan --
In celebration of the New Year on Okinawa, many community members participate in a ceremony called mochitsuki.
Mochitsuki is the act of pounding rice to make mochi, a paste-like food item (often served as a confection). It is believed that eating mochi promotes good health, longevity and prosperity over the course of the New Year.
The Hikarigaoka nursing home staff and residents shared this New Year tradition with service members of 7th Communication Battalion Jan. 17 by teaching them how to pound the rice and form mochi as part of the annual Mochistuki Festival Kin Town.
“This is a special event that the Okinawa community members cherish,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Stephen F. Brown, the chaplain with the 7th Comm. Bn., III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III MEF. “They introduced us to this great, sacred tradition that they have each year, and we’re honored that they invite us out and (that we) get to be a part of this great event.”
During the ceremony, the white, sticky rice is hammered with a mallet until a paste-like consistency is achieved.
The residents, Marines and sailors took turns pounding the rice together in rhythm.
The staff then scooped the pounded rice into a container where it was mixed with white and brown sugar. From there, the residents and service members rolled the mixture into small balls and placed it onto plates with crushed soy beans or a sweetened soy sauce to be drizzled on top and served to everyone.
“Every year, Camp Hansen (Marines) come here,” said Fumihiro Imakura, the chief of day service staff at the home. “Every time, there are different people because they have only a year or two on Okinawa. So, we have a relationship with (the battalion) to continue (these) events.”
For some of the service members who have volunteered at Hikarigaoka before, the unique events peak their curiosity to go back and learn more about Japanese culture.
“One of the reasons I wanted to come is (because) I came to the Thanksgiving one, and it was a lot of fun,” said Pvt. Richard J. Witz, an automotive organizational mechanic with the battalion. “I wanted to see what type of event this would be considering it was the staff and residents teaching us (their traditions). It makes me want to bring my family out here and show them.”
Some service members brought their children, spouses and visiting family members from the U.S. to participate in the experience. As the Marines’ children laughed and ran after their parents, the residents watched them fondly.
“(The service members) are like grandchildren to the residents,” said Imakura.
The battalion and the residents and staff of Hikarigaoka have been interacting in this fashion for nearly 20 years, participating in cultural activities together such as the Community Festival, Moon-viewing Festival and Thanksgiving and Christmas parties.
“All the staff at Hikarigaoka are very happy to share these cultural events with (the battalion),” said Imakura.