‘Hana-mochi’ have long been made for New Year’s in the Hida area. ‘Hana’ means flower and ‘mochi’ means rice-cake, so a ‘hana-mochi’ is a decoration that is like a flower made out of rice-cake. In cold areas including the Tohoku or Hokuriku areas, lots of snow falls from December to March, and the ground is covered with snow. There are no flowers during the winter.
Nowadays, we can get some flowers through a delivery network from all over Japan, but until several years ago, that was impossible. There were no decorative flowers for New Year’s, so local people had the custom of making ‘hana-mochi’.
In autumn, people pick up some branches for this decoration in their mountains. At the end of December, people gather and do ‘mochi-tsuki’. ‘Mochi-tsuki’ means pounding steamed rice into mochi. After the mochi-tsuki people shape the rice-cakes into ‘hana-mochi’.
In the case of the Ichinomiya area, they are called ‘mayu-dama’. ‘Mayu’ means cocoon, and ‘tama’ means ball. They are decorated in such a way as to pray for the safety of the silkworms in the same season. People who lived in the Hida area made money from silk thread, and the silkworm was most important for our livelihood.
There used to be lintels in old-style houses. It was possible to hang ‘hana-mochi’ from a lintel. At that time, people used a willow branch and they would take care of the tree that was used for ‘hana-mochi’ through summer and fall.
Nowadays there are fewer houses with lintels. ‘Hana-mochi’ are now displayed standing upright, instead of hanging.
We can use any kind of tree; there is no rule. However, Japanese people take care to continue believing in omens. For example, the hackberry is a good omen, the zelkova is good for health, and the chestnut tree improves finances etc. People tend to choose lucky trees.
People made only white ‘hana-mochi’ in olden days. Because old-style houses were dark even in the daytime, the white ‘hana-mochi’ brought brightness and merriment to the house. Nowadays, the inside of houses has become white and bright with lighting, many windows and white walls, so white ‘hana-mochi’ have come to be seen as dreary. People are getting used to red flowers and white ones. They are used to decorate the entrance of the house or the room with the central pillar.
When the New Year’s holidays pass, the ‘hana-mochi’ begin to drop, because they dry out. Children look forward to this and pick them up. They collect the ‘hana-mochi’ which have fallen. And people fry them and make ‘arare’ (very small rice cakes) during the Girls’ Festival celebrated on March the third. Children like ‘arare’ very much.
In the olden days, people made ‘hana-mochi’ with glutinous rice which they themselves grew in the fields around each farmhouse and pounded before the New Year. Nowadays, fewer and fewer people do this; instead, most people buy ‘hana-mochi’ at the supermarket. Or you can find at the morning market near Miyagawa-river.
In Japan, ‘mochi (rice-cakes)’ have been a special festive food from ancient times. We eat them on New Year’s, festival days, ‘Obon (lantern festival)’ etc. It is said that rice-cakes have the same history as rice. So people continue to connect to ancient times through rice-cakes.
Many grains of rice become one rice-cake, so people believe that believe that in the same way, many individuals are connected into a strong family and a strong community.
Just as in spring people look forward to cherry-blossom viewing, they look forward to ‘hana-mochi’ at New Year’s.