Blackcabbit's World

Blackcabbit (aka. Dionnie Takahashi) is an illustrator living in Japan. She loves drawing whimsical animal characters, as well as doing handmade crafts to beautify the world she lives in.

Kagami Biraki – Time to break the New Year’s Mochi!

Kagami Biraki

In the olden days, before New Year, most families would pound steamed glutinous rice to make Mochi (餅 / rice cake), an event known as Mochitsuki (餅つき / rice cake pounding). Since rice cultivation was indispensable for the Japanese, they would set aside some mochi as divine offerings for the gods of harvest.

The locals stacked two rice cakes, like a short tiny snowman. Then, they added a Daidai (橙/ bitter orange) on top and decorated it further with a variety of auspicious ornaments. This became one of the most familiar New Year’s propitious decorations – the Kagami mochi (鏡餅 / Mirror-shaped rice cake). Of which, you can usually find in a Japanese home between late December and January 11th.
mochi rice cake

January 11th is a day for Kagami Biraki (鏡開き/ Division of New Year’s Rice Cakes). The “Mochi Snowman” will be “divided” and broken into smaller pieces, either cracked by hand or hammer. Then, it becomes part of the ingredients for sweet Oshiruko (red bean soup with mochi).
Mochi adzuki

Nowadays, instead of making a Kagami mochi, we usually get a contemporary type that can be easily purchase from supermarkets before New Year. Inside the artificial “mochi” mold, there were two edible Kiri mochi (切り餅 / rectangularly-cut rice cakes), which are made to break easily by hand. We bought an extra bag of kiri mochi since we have more mouths to feed. As for the Daidai, it was just plastic. (Yuck!) :P

Kiri mochi

Symbolic Meanings of the Kagami mochi:

  • Mochi – shaped like the full moon (Mochiduki 望月or Mangetsu 満月); represents Katei Enman (家庭円満 / family happiness; household harmony).
  • The word for “stacking” (the two mochi) is Kasane (重ね). There is a saying “Kasane Gasane Arigato Gozaimasu” (重ね重ねありがとうございます), which Japanese usually says when sincerely thanking someone for their frequent or exceeding favor.
  • Daidai – shares the same homonym with 代々 (generation after generation). Hence, to be blessed with posterity.
  • Interestingly, though the Japanese word for dividing/breaking/splitting is Waru (割る), it is viewed as a “negative” word. Hence, it was replaced by Biraku (Hiraku / 開く/ open), as to “open” one’s luck and good fortune.



Japanese Annual Events (Main Page)
Mochitsuki – Pounding Mochi

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This entry was posted on January 12, 2011 by in Festivals / Holidays, Food / Recipe, Life in Japan and tagged , .
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