By Iride Aparicio

All photos © Asian Art Museum

SAN FRANCISCO, CA –  OSHOGATSU, as the Japanese call their new year, (The name  actually means New Month in Japanese) is one of the most important occasions in the Japanese calendar and is celebrated in Japan with special ceremonies food and feasts. Before l873, it was observed according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar, but now is celebrated on January 1st and it is so important in Japan,  that on that day all the institutions, factories and shops remain closed.

Luckily, for the Japanese  people living in the Bay Area, they do not need to go to Japan to celebrate some of their New Year’s rituals. They could celebrate them in San Francisco. All they need to do  to is call, e-mail, of visit the  ASIAN ART MUSEUM, Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture, located at 200 Larkin Street, and check the schedules of their Upcoming Events and Cultural celebrations.

How do the Japanese celebrate OSHOGATSU?  

There are many ways the Japanese people celebrate  OSHOGATSU. Some are ceremonies, while others are the preparation of food,

The most important  New Year’s ceremony in Japan, however, is the JOYA NO KANE,  a Buddhist ceremony which includes prayers,  purification rituals, and the chanting of the Buddhist Heart Sutra. The “Voice” of the New Year, however, is created by the pounding  of a 2100 pounds bell being hit with a tree-size wood trunk horizontally sustained by its side by ropes. The bell ix xgokd
by the Buddhist Monk or Monks first, and then by different people. During the Ceremony, the bell  is struck  l08 times, each ring, for the purpose  to curb a  bonno, the mortal desires, that according to the Buddhists,torment humankind.

Bell Ringing.jpg
The JOYA NO KANE bell ringing Ceremony.

This year, on Saturday, January 12, at 11AM the  highlight of the OSHOGATSU (As the Japanese New Year is called) Celebration at the ASIAN ART MUSEUM will be The Mochi Pounding, which is the pounding together  (Mochisuki) of  the Mochi the sticky rice dumplings, made to commemorate special occasions and a New Year’s Japanese food tradition..

While the food has been called Mochi by the Japanese around the eighteenth Century, A dictionary dating before the year l070, calls the rice cakes Mochi, but the change of the name has been explained by the theory that the name Mochi comes from the Japanese verb “Motsu” meaning “to hold or to have” and that the name “Mochi” signifies that the food was given to the Japanese people by God.

Preparation of the Mochi as the sticky rice dumplings are called

The pounded rice is used to make a variety of traditional sweets and may be eaten right away or cured and dried for later use. When it is cured, it hardens and can be cooked with red beans, vegetables or sauce and sugar, or coated with toasted soy bean powder. When toasted, Mochi inflates to several times its original size, forming a crisp crust with a soft chewy interior.
The pounding of the Mochi together, however, is now rare, even in Japan.  But it will be done in the Museum as a demonstration.

A group of men holding wooden sticks pound the rice

The making of the Mochi starts by washing glutinous rice and letting  it soak overnight, or the evening before the pounding, or “Mochitsuki.” The next morning, the rice is steamed and placed in the “usu” which is a large mortar, where it is pounded with a “kine” (a wooden mallet) until the pace becomes soft and smooth. The next morning, the mass is pulled and shaped into various sizes and shapes and can be enjoyed fresh, or with different sauces, sweet stuffing or seaweed. Some families in Japan make an altar in their homes during new year and offer the Mochi to the gods.

The MOCHI Makers


The offering of the Mochi to a God, is called Kagami-mochi which may be translated as “Mirror Mochi” because it is comprised of two equal cakes usually placed on a white sheet of paper on the center of a wooden tray and topped with a bitter orange (Daidai). During the New Year’s celebration, the Kagami-mochi is placed in the family’s altar as an auspicious gesture for a happy year ahead.

THE ASIAN ART MUSEUM Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art & Culture is located at 200 Larkin Street in San Francisco CA 94102.  For information you can go online to or call 415-581-3500.