Saturday, July 23, 2011

From Internment to Enrichment: Kaz

Another of REAL's featured subjects is Kazuo.  His story of endurance, friendship and heritage are so powerful. His Japanese family's contributions to our community are immeasurable and lasting.  This pre- New Year's, December 2010, my daughter, Meredith and I were invited to a "mochi pounding" celebration at "the ranch".  As a Japanese tradition, just before New Years Day, the families come together to prepare the rice in steaming vats, pound volumes of it to make a dough, then pull and roll it into dumplings.  They  are then either stuffed with a sweet black bean filling or left beautifully and deliciously plain.
It has been the practice, as a right of passage, that the young men do the pounding of the rice.  However, as this generous Asian family of several generations, dozens of aunts, uncles, cousins welcomed friends and neighbors, even I and my daughter were encouraged to take part each step of the ritual.  The first session of pounding is done with carved wood dowels that are about the size of closet rods.  The pounders form a circle around a massive granite bowl on a wooden stand. The rice is shoveled into the bowl and we marched in  circles pounding the rice for several minutes.  The next step was the mallet pounding which is more dangerous and done by only two to four men.  Large, squared "croquet" like mallets pound the transformed dough alternately as they each go faster and faster trying to not hit eachother or the single man below who is slipping his hand into fold and scrape the sides of the dough between pounds.  It is really quite thrilling to watch! When the still steaming dough is just right, the giant blob, about the size of a baby, is carried into the long table where dozens of women and girls have their duties as pullers or dumpling makers. Flour is everywhere and the chatter is energizing and filled with laughter.  They work quickly as the consistency changes with the cooling of the dough on the table.
At the end of the morning, dozens of bowls and tables full later, hundreds of dumplings had been made to share with friends, families and the community and even local hospitals.  Some specially prepared "snowmen" were formed by three dumplings stacked with apricot slices on top for good luck in the New Year.
Thank you to Kaz and his family for passing on the experience of their tradition, the treasure of sharing, for enriching your community and those who know you by your unconditional acceptance and love.
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