Our Islands, Our Future

The descendants of the late Rev. Sokyo Ueoka and his wife, Tomiyo Waki Ueoka, have marked the New Year season on Maui for nearly 100 years with the Japanese tradition of mochi pounding. In the year 2014, the tradition continued with more than 100 relatives gathering in Paia on the grounds of the temple, “Bachozan Mantokuji,” which the minister founded. “Everyone knows that the Saturday after Christmas, you don’t make any plans because it’s reserved for mochi pounding,” said 50-year-old Kevin Kimizuka, a fourth-generation Ueoka and oldest child of the 3rd generation matriarch of the family, Shirley Ann Kimizuka. “This is what we do as a family. It’s what we’ve always done.”

As a child growing up, Kimizuka watched his grandfather, the late Robert Ueoka – the Ueokas’ second oldest of 10 – measure the batches of sweet mochi rice year after year. Kimizuka has since assumed what he calls “the easiest job” in mochi pounding. Each batch of rice – weighs seven pounds – and every grain is washed and soaked overnight. On the day of mochi pounding, the rice is measured and then placed into handmade steam boxes. After steaming, the mochi is mashed by the Ueoka men. It’s then followed by one man pounding with a wooden mallet while another turns the mochi in an usu (deep bowl) between pounds and sprinkles water on the mochi. When the mochi is smooth, the hot batch is placed on a table where the Ueoka women cut and shape the mochi into balls. Soon after, the women brush off the excess potato starch on the mochi and they fit them into containers for each family. The Ueokas traditionally make three types of mochi – “okasane,” which is used as an offering for their altar; “komochi” or plain, which is placed in a soup made on New Year’s Day; and “an” which is filled with red beans. Shirley Ann Kimizuka said she could not imagine a New Year celebration without mochi pounding. “We all look forward to it. We grew up with it and it’s a part of our life that means a lot to us.”