CAMP ZAMA, Japan, Dec. 23, 2011 -- U.S. Soldiers took part in the Japanese tradition of pounding rice into a sticky, chewy cake known as mochi during a Dec. 23 ceremony hosted by the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force's 4th Engineer Group on Camp Zama.

Mochi pounding is a traditional cultural event during which Japanese celebrate the coming New Year. Mochi is made from special Japanese rice and is traditionally eaten throughout the holiday.
Members of the 4th Engineer Group prepared mochi-pounding stations in their gymnasium for the more than 200 people - including unit members, their families, and guests from U.S. Army Japan - who attended the annual event.

For the ceremony, the specially steamed mochi rice was placed in an usu, or wooden mortar, and pounded using a large wooden mallet known as a kine. Members of the JGSDF unit, along with attendees that included Maj. Gen. Michael T. Harrison Sr., commander of USARJ and I Corps (Forward), took turns pounding the mochi rice until it reached a soft and smooth consistency.

"This is a wonderful opportunity that gives us a chance to share and learn about Japanese culture," said Harrison. "And more importantly, it's a great way to share camaraderie with the 4th Engineer Group who are our neighbors here. We enjoy our relationship and we look forward to a brand new and prosperous New Year to continue that good cooperation."

The mochi was moved onto a table after being pounded to be broken and rolled into balls and mixed with various toppings, such as red bean paste, sweet peanut powder, natto beans, and daikon with soy sauce.

USARJ Soldiers sat together with JGSDF members at the table and shared traditional Japanese dishes to celebrate the coming New Year.

"We are honored to have this annual mochi-pounding ceremony with community and family members, guests and officials from U.S. Army Japan," said Col. Takeshi Ishimaru, commander of the 4th Engineer Group. "We are truly grateful that we are able to celebrate this event after a total of 74 days of disaster relief operations in the Tohoku area following the March 11 earthquake."