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BYUH students share the differences in their experiences with mochi from Japan, China and Hawaii

Purple mochi and pink and white mochi are laid out on a purple and pink background. Two of the mochi have bite marks on them.

While mochi is a continuous fan favorite among BYU–Hawaii students, the culture of mochi runs deep for several students, especially those from Japanese, Chinese and Hawaiian cultures. Mari Kojima, a junior majoring in peacebuilding from Hokkaido, Japan, said, “Mochi is a part of our life.”

She continued, “We have an onomatopoeia called ‘mochimochi,’ which means sticky, squishy and elastic. The word comes from mochi because mochi has a very unmistakable texture. The word shows how much mochi is deeply related to Japanese culture.”

Kahalepuna Tani, a senior from Hawaii studying anthropology, said mochi originated in Japan and China and was brought to Hawaii by Japanese immigrants who came to work on the plantations. Tani said, “I grew up with mochi,” emphasizing the food’s prevalence in his everyday life.

Placed on a green and light green background are seaweed-wrapped mochi and mochi covered in powder, with two sets of brown chopsticks next to them.

Different ways to eat your mochi

The BYUH C-Store offers a variety of unique mochi flavors, such as peanut butter ube, coconut with red beans and even mochi with ice cream, with which most students are familiar. Miyu Nakamura, a freshman in the English as an International Language program from Toyama, Japan, explained there are also many varieties of mochi in Japan. She said some of the ways to prepare mochi consists of covering it with seaweed and dipping it in soy sauce.

She said some prefer to cover the mochi with sugar and a soybean powder called Kinako. “My favorite way to eat mochi is to eat it with grated radish, soy sauce and a little bit of sugar. We often put mochi in several Japanese traditional meals.”

Tani said people in Hawaii also eat mochi in many ways. Some ways, he shared, are mochi with shaved ice, red bean soup, Japanese traditional soup called Ozoni, butter mochi, chichi dango (a sweet and soft type of mochi), mochiko dessert, or mochiko chicken (fried chicken made with mochi flour).

Zhanhong Guo, a sophomore majoring in business management from China, said, “People in China also eat mochi, called Nomi. We usually put strawberries inside of mochi. But you can put any fruit inside of mochi, such as grapes or mangoes. Also, sometimes we cover mochi with coconut flakes.”

She said China is a large country, so depending on the region, people eat mochi in different ways. Guo is from Northern China and often uses mochi to make dumplings, known as Tangyuan, by wrapping them in sesame.

The mochi process

Kojima said, “Mochi takes a lot of work and time to make. You steam it and then punch it down and pound it with a mallet called ‘kine’ on a rice mortar called ‘usu.’ Then, we split up the mochi and round it up, making little balls. I love that process.” She shared rather than steaming the mochi, you can also boil, grill or bake it, which she said is her favorite because she enjoys watching it expand.

Japanese mochi is much stretchier than any mochi in Hawaii, Kojima shared. She explained this is because when making Japanese mochi they use the key ingredient of mochi rice rather than mochi flour, which is less sticky.

The New Year holiday and mochi are a popular combination in many communities. Nakamura said, “Every New Year’s Eve, our family gets together and makes mochi together at home.” She said her grandfather teaches not only her family how to make mochi, but also teaches the children at the elementary schools.

“Every New Year, people in my community in Kaneohe even make mochi by themselves with the same process as in Japan. But I don’t always use mochi rice to make mochi, sometimes I also use mochi flour,” Tani said.