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Organizers of the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington's mochitsuki anticipate this year's edition of the traditional New Year's rice pounding will draw a

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Local Japanese Communities Prepare to Pound Rice for Traditional New Year's Treat

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Organizers of the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington's mochitsuki anticipate this year's edition of the traditional New Year's rice pounding will draw a record number of participants.

"Last year we had 300 or so folks, and we're expecting it to be a little bit bigger," interim executive director Bif Brigman says.

Now in its fifth year, the JCCW celebration is still eclipsed by the mochitsuki annually staged by the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community, which last year attracted 1200 attendees. But Brigman says collaborations with other organizations and the ebbing of mochitsuki ceremonies around Seattle have helped grow the JCCCW event.

"Lots of churches aren't doing it anymore," Brigman says. "Like a lot of things, it's become a lot more automated."

Churches including the Seattle Nichiren Buddhist Church now use an electric sausage grinder-type apparatus to transform steamed rice into paste, or mochi, that's formed into small cakes for the holiday. Other machines can accommodate uncooked rice, Brigman says.

At a traditional mochitsuki, the rice is pounded in a concrete bowl with three-foot long wooden hammers. While JCCCW invites participants to try shaping the mochi, Brigman says the pounding isn't a hands-on activity. "It tends to be a little dangerous with big mallets and a stone bowl," he says. JCCCW's "main mochi guy" is spending New Year's with his family in Japan, but Brigman says he's recruited a few other strong volunteers to produce the sticky rice dough.

Mochi, which is believed to help ensure a year of health and prosperity, has been a feature of festive meals in Japan for more than 1000 years. Other customary New Year's foods include egg roulade, the colors of silver and gold; black soybeans, a Japanese homophone for "health" and a certain kind of seaweed, associated with a word meaning "joy."

The JCCCW's mochitsuki at Nisei Veterans Hall starts Thursday at 10 a.m., with poundings occurring at the bottom of the hour through 3 p.m. The day's programming also includes drumming performances, videos of mochtsuki events around the world and children's activities. Mochi will be available for sale, but must be pre-purchased online.

The Bainbridge Island mochitsuki is scheduled for Jan. 8, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

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