Mochitsuki at The Yamate Catholic Church

The open-for-all traditional Japanese New Year event Mochitsuki or Rice Pounding Ceremony in the The Sacred Heart Cathedral (more commonly known to foreigners as the Yamate Catholic Church) organized by the Japanese community was held the morning of January 18 at the Church grounds. Normally occupied with cars, the Church grounds that morning were instead littered with wooden mortars. The ceremony in itself is labor intensive. It involves pounding the (cooked) Japanese glutinous rice into paste, called mochi, using wooden mallets (kine in Japanese) in wooden vessels/mortars whilst the glutinous rice is still hot; pounding the rice until desired consistency is achieved. The ceremony however doesn’t involve pounding alone. Interspersed with the pounding, is the turning over of the mochi on the wooden vessel such that the whole mixture is evenly pounded. This alternating action – pounding and turning over of the mixture – creates a rhythm that is almost hypnotic to the observers.

The event started with experienced mochitsuki parishioners preparing the mochi. As the rhythm was established, interested parishioners were welcomed to participate.

Even the kids.

Photo by PM Garcia

The fire for cooking the glutinous rice warmed the parishioners as well.

Photo by PM Garcia

Once a mixture is evenly pounded, it is then prepared for distribution for everyone to eat, visitors and parishioners alike, to their hearts’ content. For free! Okawari or second (or third, so forth) helpings are welcome. So yes, the queue was very long.


There were several flavours to choose from. Even kimchi mochi and daikon mochi.


But I wasn’t so adventurous. So I took my favorites. Kinako mochi (brown powdery mochi in the photo below) – I had two helpings!, red bean paste mochi (red syrupy one), black sesame mochi (peppery looking mochi in the photo below but sweet tasting, resembling that of peanut butter but more tasty) and nori mochi in Japanese soy sauce.


It may not look presentable but the parishioners and visitors could attest they taste really good. The long queue and okawari says it all.

The fires earlier weren’t just for cooking the glutinous rice. It was also to boil some soup. Tonjiro, the Japanese soup made with pork and vegetables and flavoured with miso soup is also available. To warm our tummies in the wintry cold! Of course it comes with mochi.


If you missed the event, be sure to catch it early next year! To those visiting or are new to Yokohama and wanted to attend Mass, English mass is held at 9:30AM every Sunday in The Sacred Heart Cathedral. For access, see below.

Address : 44 Yamatecho, Naka Ward, Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture 231-0862
Telephone : 045-641-0735
Via JR line: get off at Ishikawacho Station and up a flight of stairs, roughly 15 minutes’ walk
Via Minato Mirai Line: get off at Motomachi-chukagai Station, take the lift, exit at America Yama Garden. When you get to the main road, turn right. Roughly 10 minutes by foot
Via Bus: Take Bus 11 at Bus Stop 1 in Sakuragicho Station and get off at Yamatecho. This should lead you almost right to the Church’s doorsteps.

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