New Year's Day

large mallet or hammer made with natural piece of wood and straight wood handle
Mochi Mallet, ca 1930-1950
Galt Museum & Archives P19790273000
Photo by David Tanaka

The Japanese are very busy in the days leading up to New Year, January 1. The home has to be cleaned inside and out, and all debts paid. Special foods have to be made before New Year’s Day. Family members dress up in their best clothes and eat a rice cake soup for breakfast. It is considered unlucky to be rushing around on New Year’s Day - it is believed that if you are not ready by New Year’s Day, then you will be rushed all through the year.

Mochi making was an annual family or community event which happened just before the New Year. Special sweet rice was steamed, placed into a wooden vessel and then pounded into a dough with a wooden mochi mallet. Small cakes were shaped and eaten as a part of New Year’s celebrations.

In the 1920s and 1930s with no close neighbours and only horse and buggy for transportation, rural Japanese would take turns hosting New Year’s parties. They feasted and drank, sang and danced almost until dawn. They would sleep on the floor with mats filled with straw, and go home the next day. The month of January was a month-long celebration for the Japanese.

Additional information for this mochi mallet is available on the Government of Canada Artefacts Canada - mochi mallet (external link) website.