Japanese-American festival rings in new year

More than 2,000 people gathered Sunday, Jan. 28, in Smith Memorial Student Union for the annual Mochitsuki Japanese New Year celebration. The family-friendly festival showcased Japanese and Japanese-American culture through music, dance, food, art and storytelling.

The Japanese word mochitsuki refers to the pounding of rice into mochi, a Japanese sticky rice cake traditionally eaten to celebrate a new year. The creation of mochi dough from many individual grains of rice into one cake represents community-building, a goal of the festival.

“Mochi symbolizes the traditions that bind us together as a community,” said Alton Takiyama-Chung, storyteller and Mochitsuki master of ceremonies.

The festival marked the beginning of the Year of the Dog in the Chinese zodiac, also recognized in Japan and across East and Southeast Asia. The zodiac associates a different animal with each year in a repeating 12-year cycle.

In his opening speech, Consul General Kojiro Uchiyama said 2018 would be a lucky year for people born in the Year of the Dog: 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994 or 2006.

While New Year traditions took center stage, the festivities also celebrated Japanese culture, featuring hands-on experiences from tea ceremonies to photo ops with Hello Kitty.  Katherine Morrow of the Portland State Institute for Asian Studies explained the scope of the celebration sets Mochitsuki apart from the New Year celebrations one might encounter in Japan

“This is a very Japanese American–style festival,” Morrow said. “In Japan, it would be much more specific and focused.”