ウチャヌク uchanuku comes from the Japanese 御茶の子 (ochanoko). It is a plain rice cake made without sugar, typically used as an offering (供え物) for the hinukan (火の神) or altar (butsudan 仏壇).
It comes as 3 tiers of 3 pieces, as well as a “bonus” one for making a “new offering,” which you can remove the top piece from stack and replace with the bonus one. It is a frugal way to extend the life of your offering.
The taste is not so great, so it is recommended if you want to eat this thing, you should heat it in the oven for about 2 minutes and then add honey or a sweet shoyu mixture to it. I have also heard people say to add a little red bean paste (anko 餡子) and a strawberry, then wrap it to make similar to an ichigo daifuku 苺大福.
There is something else different and unique, called tanna uchanuku タンナウチャヌク. It is made from a simple brown sugar cookie called tannafakuruu タンナファクルー. Tannafa is “Tamanaha” 玉那覇, the name of the family who made it, and kuruu is “black” 黒 as in brown sugar 黒糖 in uchinaaguchi.
All of these are easily available at grocery stores in Okinawa, especially around important times of year where offerings are needed.
*more pictures coming soon… sorry this photo is just of regular Tannafakuru!
赤福餅 akafuku mochi is a famous type of mochi from Ise 伊勢 in Mie prefecture 三重県. It has a 300 year history.
赤 aka means “red” and 福 fuku means “luck.” 餅 mochi is rice cake.
At the Mie-Nagoya products fair, I got a tea set for only 210yen that included 2 pieces of akafuku mochi and tea.
Akafuku mochi is made with such smooth delicious bean paste, shaped in peaks to symbolize the ripples of the Isuzu river that flows through the Ise grand shrine region. Inside is mochi (rice cake) that represents the smooth white river pebbles.
The taste is amazing; they use no preservatives or artificial coloring and the azuki beans used are from Hokkaido, the mochi is made from all domestic mochi rice.
きな粉 kinako is one of my favorite flavors. It is roasted soybean powder, so it has a sort of nutty flavor to it. Several treats come in kinako flavors, either as the powder or turned into a paste or cream.
One of my favorites is the taiyaki たい焼き (warm fish-shaped pastry) stall in the basement level of the Ryubo department store in Naha; they sell a kinako cream taiyaki.
There are also these containers of tasty kinako-covered (dried) soy beans (大豆 daizu) sold at SanA grocery store for ~100yen. They are soooo addicting. And not healthy.
While in Hokkaido I got some kinako-flavored chocolate covered beans… insanely delicious as well.
There is also a type of wagashi called warabi mochi, which is like an soft braken starch confection topped with kinako (bottom right of the dish shown in the photo below).
You can buy kinako (powder) and even kinako cream in pretty much every grocery store in Okinawa. Kinako treats are also fairly common to see around most stores; Kitkat just released a new spring flavor of sakura+kinako kitkats.
kagami-mochi 鏡餅 is “mirror” mochi displayed in the house during New Years. You are not supposed to open it and “break” the mirror (crack the mochi into pieces) until Jan 11th (some regions might do different days, like the 15th).
I cannot tell you the number of Americans who buy one, open it, and BITE into it raw! Then they wonder why Japanese eat wax. Gross. Please do not do this.
You must heat up the dried mochi in some way: toaster oven, microwave, grill.
On kagami biraki 鏡開き (open/break the mirror ceremony), open up your dried mochi that you bought and break it into pieces (you should not use a knife but mallet or something instead, but I won’t judge you if you decide knife is easier). Inside your plastic container you will find kiri mochi 切り餅, rectangular shaped dried rice cakes. You can buy just packages of these kiri mochi in the stores as well (sometimes you can find them in round shapes as well, those usually these are labelled with maru 丸 meaning round).
My favorite way to prepare it is to toast it in the microwave or toaster oven (just a little until you see it puff up and brown), then add it to hot zenzai ぜんざい (red bean soup, you can make yourself or just buy the prepared package at SanA). Something similar is oshiruko おしるこ, which is more soup-y and smooth.
Another way would be ozoni soup お雑煮, which is usually simple dashi, mochi, plus some vegetables or fishcake.
Hanabiramochi 花びらもち is a type of wagashi, specifically a type of namagashi (click here for more info on types of wagashi). It is eaten during the New Year, especially at the first tea ceremony of the year. The meaning of 花びら hanabira is “flower petals,” so it is flower petal mochi. How can anyone resist something called flower petal mochi?
I purchased this sweet little mochi while traveling in Kyushu right before the New Year. I have never tried hanabiramochi before now, but it looked delicate and pretty that it seemed like I must. The shop counter in the department store I purchased from was full of various Japanese sweets to complement the New Year, and honestly I wanted all of them, but settled for just the hanabiramochi.
So what is inside? The white colored mochi outside is flat and round then folded in half, The pink color shows through in the center then fades to white at the edges. There is a piece of long, thin, sweetened gobou ごぼう (burdock root) in the middle which sticks out both sides of the mochi. The sweet bean filling is made from the pale mung beans (the pink is usually just food coloring).
Overall? Pretty good, but I admit the gobou is a bit strange in there.
Previously, I posted about the special Okinawa mochi called muuchii ムーチー (鬼餅). It is traditional to eat muuchii* on Muuchii-no-hi ムーチーの日 (12/8 of the lunar New year).
*also commonly spelled as “muchi” in English.
Eating muuchii on muuchii-no-hi is derived from an old Okinawan folk tale. There are some more macabre (and sexualized) versions of this tale, but I will stick to one of the children’s version that they air on TV here… gotta keep it PG.
This story is “Oni mochi” or in Okinawan language, “Unee Muuchii” 鬼餅. (鬼 oni means demon, 餅 mochi means rice cake). **some variations I have seen on “oni” in Okinawa language are also ウニ uni and ウナー unaa. I suspect these are all correct depending on the region of Okinawa.
Long ago, a brother and sister lived in a village near Shuri called Ozato. The brother became possessed by a demon and ate livestock at night; he even started living in a cave. In some stories, it is also rumored that the demon-possessed brother began eating children. The sister found out, so she came up with a plan to get rid of the demon.
In order to exorcise the demon, the sister made a muuchii (mochi) with iron nails inside and wrapped it with sannin 月桃の葉 (shell ginger leaves, called caasa カーサー in Okinawan language).
She tricked the demon to eat the mochi; the iron nails rid the brother of the demon and they pushed it off the cliff to kill the ogre!
In some of the lesser PG stories, the brother dies as he is the oni and the sister dies falling off the cliff with the oni, or weirder yet the sister has a “second mouth” which eats demons that is located “under her kimono”… I am sure you can guess as to what this might mean.
Anyway, the story happened on December 8th of the lunar calendar, so ever since it is a custom to eat muuchi on this day to ward off demons, protect from evil, and pray for good health.
Similar to setsubun, there is the custom of saying:
Around this time of year, all the grocery stores start displaying the products to make muuchii, and shops take pre-orders. As I mentioned in the previous post on muuchii, people with children will buy the same number of muuchii as the age of their children and tie them up with string, hanging them up in the house; this practice is called sagimuuchii サギムーチー. People who had a baby in the past year will make up lots and lots of muuchii (this practice is called ハチムーチー hachimuuchi 初鬼餅) to hand out to relatives, neighbors, and friends; last year one of my eikaiwa students became a grandmother and brought us all in muuchii. For the baby, they also have the custom of making chikara muuchii (力 chikara means “power”) which is much bigger then regular muuchii in order to pray for the healthy growth of the baby. Muuchii is eaten as a lucky charm for the prayer of health and longevity. This coming year, Muuchii day (ムーチーの日) is on January 24th 2018; December 8th of the lunar calendar.
There are a couple ways you can make muuchii. First you can buy the pre-mixed bag, just add water. All the grocery stores sell these, in usually in a variety of flavors such as beniimo (purple sweet potato), brown sugar (one of my favorites), taanmu (taro), yomogi (mugwort), kabocha (pumpkin), ukon/ucchin (turmeric), or even just plain. You can also buy the ingredients separately, so you can mix up the flavors as you like; again all the powders to this are in the grocery store. A lot of the mochiko and flavor packages even have the recipe/directions for muuchii on the back. If you really want (or don’t have access to powdered beniimo), you could even do it some more traditional ways like mashing beniimo to get the flavor in instead of the powder. Overall, it is super simple and it does not have to be precise, just don’t use too much of either water of sugar.
For the shell ginger leaves: you can buy these at JA farmers market or just ask someone if you can have some from their yard… they are everywhere!
Recipe for Beniimo muuchii (purple sweet potato): This one uses the powders. Maybe I will post the longer version later if I find a good recipe. You can halve or quarter the recipe, which is what I normally do.
mochiko もち粉, 1kg
beniimo powder 紅芋粉,200g
sugar, brown or white, 200g
water 4-5 cups
shell ginger leaves 月桃の葉, ~50 pieces (cleaned!)
vinyl string for tying muuchii
Knead together the mochiko, beniimo powder, sugar and some of the water (it will probably be a bit sticky at first, that’s okay). Make sure it is not too dry or too wet, it should be pliable but not too sticky or soft; you may want to experiment with the amount of water (the ratio should be somewhere in the range of 2:5 to 3:5 of water in mL to dry ingredients in grams). Shape into rectangular shape onto shell ginger, wrap and tie with vinyl string. Steam muuchii well for ~3o minutes. Carefully remove and let cool. Finished! Hopefully this year I can take some nice pictures of the making and shaping process~ you can see how truly easy it is to make yourself.
Brown sugar muuchii (10 pieces): mochiko, 300g; brown sugar 120g (as little as 80g or up to about 150g depending on your taste); water 240cc. Follow the same instructions– knead, shape, wrap, tie. Steam ~30 minutes.
For these recipes you can change the ratios a bit and you will not affect the texture or steaming time much. Some recipes will call for dried potato flakes (like those instant mashed potato flakes), but I have not tried using any… I am not really sure how that changes things. Recipes from scratch call for boiling and mashing either white potato or sweet potato into the mixture… again, I have not really tried that (yet).
For reference here is a picture of 2 pre-mixed ready to go muuchii pouches I bought at SanA; left is taanmu 田芋/ターンム (taro) and right is brown sugar (黒糖). All you need is water and shell ginger leaves. The best part– these can also be made into dango 団子! Also for reference below is a picture of mochikoもち粉 (sweet glutinous rice flour) if you go that route.
**in Okinawan language it is pronounced “sougwachi” そーぐゎち
大晦日 oomisoka: New Year’s Eve
**in Okinawa language it is pronounced “toushinuyuruu” とぅしぬゆるー
There are many, many Japanese customs that come with the beginning of a New Year. In Okinawa, several of them are observed, and some are a little different. Okinawa usually observes most of its customs on the lunar calendar, so there is also a second, slightly different observance for lunar New Year celebrated later as well.
Before the New Year, houses go through major house-cleaning (osouji 大掃除) to prepare for the new year. It is a busy time for everyone. New Years is mostly a family event in Japan, and perhaps especially Okinawa, so they are not usually a lot of large countdowns or fireworks shows. The only fireworks tend to be at the resorts, mostly for tourists. There are some drinking/dancing parties for the younger people. The Itoman Peace Park has a special event with torches and sounding the bell for world peace, then ending with some fireworks. ChuraSun Beach in Tomigusuku keeps their illumination up through midnight and ends with countdown fireworks. There are usually some fireworks up in Awase by the Comprehensive park as well. Overall they are very short shows, nothing like the summer. Every year I see someone online saying there are fireworks in American Village, but then I never see any info on it and later people complain there were none; I am guessing some jerk thinks it is fun to troll new Americans for New Year’s eve.
As I was shopping in SanA (grocery store), they had a nice poster (shown above) of where to put all the New Years decoration (in Japanese, but nice nonetheless). Right now there are tons of different pieces that one can purchase to get the house ready for the New Year. Some of the common decor and traditions you will see in Okinawa:
shimekazari しめ飾り: a rice straw rope wreath しめ縄 (shimenawa) with white paper 紙垂 (shide). In Okinawa, it is common to have a fairly simple straw “wreath” with a piece of charcoal wrapped in konbu 昆布 (seaweed) and an orange (mikan みかん) attached, though plenty of people also buy the fancier ones. You can even buy ones with Rilakkuma and other characters on it. This kind of thing can be placed on your door, or above the entrance to your house. It is to purify/protect the house. A more simple shimenawa rope is often placed above the family butsudan 仏壇 (altar). Some people even buy small ones and put them on their cars. I buy new ones every year, but I have heard people admit they reuse them for a few years (instead of burning it on the ritual day) and just add a fresh orange/charcoal. So again, if you buy a nice one that is too pretty (or expensive) to burn… don’t feel guilty for not burning it according to tradition.
kadomatsu 門松: 3 pieces of bamboo with pine are arranged on a circular base. Also typically placed at the entranceway, to welcome the toshigami 年神 (year deity/god) to the house (they can land on the bamboo posts). I have a (plastic-y) set that I reuse. Sometimes it is nice to buy fresh new ones, but the New Year adds up quickly. Again… you can buy them and burn them in the ritual… but don’t let anyone make you feel bad for being a little frugal. Japanese people are like this too.
minori 稔り: this is rice straw tied in a bunch. Can be placed by the altar/butsudan, but I think some people in Okinawa use these instead of kadomatsu at the front entrance. Some people may even braid their own shimekazari from these.
kagami-mochi 鏡餅: this is “mirror” mochi. I cannot tell you the number of Americans who buy one, open it, and BITE into it raw! Then they wonder why Japanese eat wax. But no… you must heat up the dried mochi! Anyway, these are stacked pieces of dried mochi with a New Year decoration (like an orange or zodiac symbol on top). This is usually placed at the butsudan /altar or kamidana 神棚. You are not supposed to open it and “break” the mirror (crack the mochi into pieces) until on Jan 11th (some regions might do different days). Anyway, on kagami biraki 鏡開き (break the mirror ceremony), open up your dried mochi that you bought and break it into pieces (you should not use a knife but mallet or something instead, but I won’t judge you if you decide knife is easier). You can heat it up a number of ways. My favorite is toast it in the microwave or toaster oven or even a grill (just a little until you see it puff up and brown), then add it to hot zenzai ぜんざい (red bean soup, you can make yourself or just buy the prepared package at SanA). Yum! You could also check online for some ozoni soup recipes お雑煮.
charcoal wrapped inkelp: 炭= charcoal, so sumi-kazari 炭飾り is charcoal decoration. In Okinawa, charcoal is very important for purification, health, and for longevity (since it does not “decay”). Pieces of charcoal wrapped in kelp and with auspicious kanji/ribbon are placed not only on the shimekazari, but also on the butsudan (altar) or the hinukan 火の神.
figurine of New Year zodiac animal: This year is year of the rooster and last year was year of the monkey. In recent years I have started getting the cheap Hello Kitty zodiac figurine. It is cute although I suppose not so traditional. Only 500yen at Tokyu Hands.
Many New Years flower arrangements will have plum blossoms, pine, bamboo, cabbage and other plants that have special symbolism for spring or the beginning of a new year.
otoshidama お年玉: who doesn’t love to receive an envelope full of money? Usually this is for kids to receive. Even as a school teacher in Hawai’i I observed this custom on a small scale during the lunar New Year, and gave kids otoshidama envelopes (called pochi bukuro ポチ袋) with a chocolate coin it– no money, but a little piece of chocolate, so it was still appreciated.
osechi-ryouri 御節料理: Traditional New years food! The best part, amirite? In this modern day you will see stores bustling with pre-orders, not many people have so much time to prepare all this! Again, it usually falls on the wife of the oldest son to prepare these things (some of the ladies in my eikaiwa say it is best to marry a second son!), similar to Obon, so as you can imagine ordering a platter with all the required items from a restaurant or grocery store is much easier. There are a few traditional foods necessary for Okinawan osechi-ryouri, most of them are fried, some type of pork, or shrimps. Honestly in the stores, the fried foods and Okinawa hors d’oeuvres plates (オードブル) were flying off the shelves while the mainland-style foods were left somewhat untouched. I will try to take a few pictures this year; below are pictured more mainland Japanese types of food for New Years.
nakamijiru 中身汁 (also 中味汁): Nakami-jiru is intestines soup (pork). This is a very traditional dish for Okinawan people, but younger generations are (for perhaps obvious reasons) less inclined to eat it these days. Bags of pre-made soup (just heat and serve) and large bags of “chitlins” (pieces of intestines, pardon the American slang) are easily found in the center aisles of the store this time of year.
Winter gift, oseibo 御歳暮: just like summer gift (chuugen), all the groceries drag out the box gifts. You can buy the same types of item: spam, laundry detergent, beer, rice… and you can have them ship it to relatives afar or just have them wrap it and deliver yourself during the days leading up to the New Year.
On New Years Eve, we typically watch Kohaku Uta Gassen 紅白歌合戦 (red vs white singing competition) featuring popular music artists and enka singers. Basically it is women (red) vs men (white), and while it is sort of cheesy at times (people complain about the talentless AKB48 groups), it is actually fun to have on while waiting for the end of the year. At the end, the votes are tallied and the winning team determined. Hotaru no hikari 蛍の光 (to the tune of Auld Lang Syne) is sung at the end, and then the program flashes to celebrations at New Years temples and shrines around Japan.
On the first of January, the Japan Post delivers New Years Cards with lottery numbers printed on them; see a related post on New Years Cards 年賀状 called nengajo 年賀状.
During the first week of New Years, especially on January 1st is the custom of hatsumode 初詣, the first visit to a shrine or temple (click here for info on shrines and temples in Okinawa); at midnight on New years you can usually hear the bells tolling 108 times. This is the time to buy new omamori お守り (protective amulets) and leave the old ones at the shrine or temple for the ritual burning. The shrines and temples are open 24 hours for the first 3 days of the New Year, so you can really go any time!
One tradition that is also very popular here in Okinawa is watching the first sunrise of the New Year, called 初日の出 hatsuhinode. Many people gather on ridges overlooking the east side of the island, and some locations have special events, such as Nakagusuku-jo ruins site. The 東太陽橋 Agai-tidabashi (bridge) by the SanA in Nakagusuku is always very crowded (this is also a popular moon-viewing spot).
And of course, the biggest shopping day of the year to score some good deals and fukubukuro (lucky bags) 福袋.
Some words/phrases you may see (or hear) a lot of:
よいお年を(お迎え下さい) yoi otoshi wo (omukae kudasai): said only before the New Year in December, basically “have a a good New Year.”
明けましておめでとうございます akemashite omedetou gozaimasu: Happy New Year (said after the New Year has begun)
今年もよろしくお願いします kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu: Please take care of me (again) this year. Said after the New Year begins.
今年もいろいろお世話になりました kotoshi mo iroiro osewani narimashita: Thank you for everything you have done for me this year. Said before the New Year begins.
また来年も宜しくお願い致します mata rainen mo yoroshiku onegai itashimasu: Next year please also take care of me. Said before the New Year begins.
謹賀新年 kinga shinen: Happy New Year (written, not usually said) 賀正 gashou: Happy New Year (written, not usually said)
迎春 geishun: welcoming spring (again, written not said)
元日 ganjitsu: January 1st
元旦 gantan: The morning of January 1st.
あけおめ ake ome: slang (shortened version) of akemashite omedetou (Happy New Year).
So coming from Hawai’i, I have a deep appreciation for ice cream mochi. Here in Okinawa, I can find it in basically every conbini and grocery store. The flavors rotate year-round (although there are always old standbys like vanilla); during spring you see sakura (cherry blossom), during fall there are flavors like sweet potato. Sometimes you will find chocolate, strawberry, cookies and cream, matcha, etc. Ice cream wrapped in soft mochi… what’s not to love? If you have never tried such a wonderful creation, you are missing out.
The most common brand (at least in Okinawa) seems to be LOTTE 雪見だいふく (yukimi daifuku), sold in packs of 2 in the conbini freezer next to the other ice creams.
A short introduction to “wagashi,” meaning Japanese sweets. There are many types, so let me review a few of the common ones. This focuses on Japanese sweets not Okinawan sweets, though it is possible to find most of these in Okinawa. Many of these are the perfect accompaniments to tea, especially matcha 抹茶. I will try to make posts about each of these individually at some point, but for now here is a brief description of each.
Nama-gashi 生菓子: these are fresh, delicate sweets, only lasting 1-2 days. The fillings, shapes and designs vary by the seasons and regions. If you click on the link, you can find out a little bit more about them in my previous blog post, and some places to find them.
daifuku 大福: soft mochi wrapped around sweet bean paste or other fillings, covered with a light dusting of starch to keep them from sticking together. A popular type of daifuku type is strawberry (ichigo 苺). You can even find ice cream filled daifuku in the freezer of most conbini.
dorayaki どら焼き: 2 light, sweet “pancakes” typically with red bean paste in between. Do not mix these up with hotcakes ホットケーキ which are western and serve with syrup.
ohagi おはぎ: cooked glutinous rice with red bean paste (or sometimes other toppings such as sesame or kinako) on the outside. Typically served during Autumn. The Spring version is called botamochi.
dango 団子or だんご: small pieces of steamed mochi dumplings, often served on a stick. Hanami dango 花見団子 is a very popular type, with color of pink, white, and green. Sometimes served with toppings such as mitarashi dango (sweet shoyu), goma (black sesame seed), anko (red bean paste), etc.
manjuu 饅頭 or まんじゅう: small “buns” that are either steamed or baked, filled with sweet bean paste or other sweet filling. Manjuu encompasses many different types of buns, so you will see a lot of variation. The one above is a stuffed pastry manjuu from an onsen town.
taiyaki たい焼き: fish-shaped pancake-like pastry with filling, traditionally red bean, but many flavors can be found such as custard, kinako, chocolate, and more.
youkan 羊羹: sort of sweet, firm, jelly-like confection made from sugar and agar (kanten かんてん). Travels well, so it is often a popular omiyage.
monaka 最中 or もなか: a wafer shell filled with sweet bean paste; the shells can come in different shapes and sizes. A popular modern variation of monaka is filled with ice cream, easy to find at the conbini! (I do not seem to have a picture of this one! mmm maybe that means it is time for a snack…)
sakura mochi (Kansai-style) 桜餅: mochi rice dyed pink and sweetened with red bean paste inside, wrapped with a sakura (cherry blossom) leaf. It is traditionally eaten in spring during sakura season and Girls’ Day (March 3rd). You can eat the leaf or not eat the leaf; from I have heard there is no actual rule regarding this, though the leaf is edible– don’t let anyone tell you are doing it wrong!
warabi mochi わらび餅: jelly-like, similar to mochi, but made from warabi (bracken) starch. It is a little chewy and soft. It is usually covered in kinako or matcha powder.
higashi 干菓子: known as “dry sweets,” or sweets with little to no moisture content. Sometimes this is a glutinous rice flour, sugar and starch mixture or a wasanbon sugar pressed in molds to form dry sweets. Rakugan 落雁, used during ceremonies and obon, also fall under this category.
Miyabi Teahouse Nakamoto みやび茶屋仲元 is a small tea house located in Okinawa city, off a back alley from Rt. 330 past the Rycom mall. You might not realize it exists, unless you recognize the hiragana for dorayaki どらやき on a purple flag in the alley and then think to follow it down an even more narrow alley to a parking lot leading to what appears to be an unmarked house except for the Okinawa City Omotenashi (おもてなし “hospitality”) flag outside the door.
Anyhow, it is a teahouse, leave your shoes at the door and enter the tatami room; during lunch they have some light meals, and during tea time you can order tea, coffee, ohagi, dorayaki, hot zenzai, and Okinawa ice zenzai. My quest in coming here was mainly to try the ohagi おはぎ.
Ohagi is named for the autumn flower, hagi (bush clover). In spring, this same dessert is called botamochi ぼたもち which is named after the spring flower, botan (peony). It is most commonly eaten during the Autumn and Spring Equinoxes.
Ohagi is sweet mochi rice with an azuki bean paste around the outside, although there are variations. This place had kinako (roasted soy flour) outside with anko (red azuki bean paste) inside, sesame outside with anko inside, as well as the typical anko outside and anko inside kinds. My husband and I ordered an ohagi set and a dorayaki set to share between us, so we ended up with 1 of each type, plus 2 dorayaki, and 2 matchas. What a nice experience. The owners were surprised to see Americans (at least by themselves and not accompanied by Japanese), and asked us how we found out about it and where we were from, etc. I explained about the Okinawa cafe book I purchased awhile back from the bookstore. The menu is in Japanese, but it seemed like the wife spoke some English, so I would not worry about trying this place out if you have trouble with Japanese language.
フチャギ (or ふちゃぎ) fuchagi is a special Okinawa mochi; it is rice cake covered in azuki beans (小豆). This is a little different than muuchii. As I mentioned in other posts, beans are believed to ward off evil or demons. One of the main times of year to eat fuchagi is during Mid-Autumn Festival, around Autumn equinox and Tsukimi moon-viewing (occurs on the 15th of the 8th lunar month). They are also put on the altar and hinukan as an offering to give thanks for the current good harvest and to pray for future good harvests.
I was told the story behind the origin of fuchagi thanks to one of my older students. It is a kind of ghost story, really, but it has a happy ending.
Story of the origins of Fuchagi:
One day a man was kidnapped by a demon called a Majimun マジムン (a type of Ryukuan devil/monster) and entrapped in the tomb of an Aji 按司 (a type Ryukuan samurai, or feudal lord, high ranking person), located in a deserted area. He could not move and he could carely speak; only his hand could fit through a small opening to the outside of the tomb. He would cry for help in a husky voice, “Help me, help me…” but he received no replies.
After a few days, one night 2 men were walking near the tomb to take shelter from the rain. Suddenly, they noticed a hand emerge from the hole! They were terrified as they saw the human hand coming from the tomb, but they heard a husky voice pleading for help. The prisoner in the tomb told them his name and the village he was from, so the 2 men rescued him from the tomb, then bringing him back to his village via horseback.
However, 49 days had already passed since the man’s disappearance, so his family and the village held a funeral (one of the traditional number of days to hold a type of Buddhist funeral service), even without a body. Everyone was so surprised to see him approach as they were holding his funeral, but shed tears of joy at his return. The plain mochi used in the funeral was changed to celebratory mochi by adding beans to the surface (beans are used in celebrations and for warding off evil). Everyone ate the mochi covered in beans, and from then forward, fuchagi mochi is eaten to protect against evil every August 15th according to the lunar calendar.
Don’t live in Okinawa but want to make it at home? Here is the recipe at the bottom of this blog post (just scroll down); you can find all the ingredients pretty easily, but depending on where you live you may need to find an Asian market if these are not common in your regular grocery stores.
Okinawa has some unique mochi sweets. These are made differently than Japan mainland mochi; the feeling of eating Okinawa mochi is unique, and I think even mainland Japanese are surprised at the different mochi here.
I wrote previous post on muuchii ムーチー, a type of mochi wrapped in shell ginger leaves.
Another post explains fuchagi ふちゃぎ, a bean-covered mochi eaten during Tsukimi 月見 or “moon-viewing.”
Now I will introduce nantu (nantou) ナントゥー. This is a type of mochi made with miso! It also has brown sugar and peanut paste in it. Yum. It is often made with jimami (じーまーみ or じーまみ, meaning “island peanut”) and covered in sesame seeds. There is a variation using purple sweet potato or taro (called taanmu in uchinaaguchi), as well. It looks simple, but somehow nostalgic I think. These are sold all over the island at mochi shops, grocery stores, and farmers markets… be sure to look for them here in Okinawa!
Tsuki-mi means “moon-watching,” tsuki= moon and mi= to watch/see. You will also hear moon-viewing festivals referred to as uchichiumachii ウチチウマチー（お月お祭り) in Okinawa language.
There are 2x you are supposed to view the full moon in Japanese culture. The first is Jugoya 十五夜 (also romanized Juugoya, translation “15th night”), held on August 15 of the lunar calendar; in Okinawan it is called Juuguya じゅーぐや. You may also often see it referred to as 中秋の名月 chuushuu no meigetsu, Mid-autumn moon festival or harvest festival. The second is Jusanya 十三夜 (also romanized Juusanya, translation “13th night”), September 13 of the lunar calendar. Jusanya is also referred to as 後の月 nochi no tsuki (later moon). It is often thought to bring bad luck to celebrate only Jugoya, since the 2 moon-viewing days are related.
In Okinawa, there are some special types of “mooncakes” called fuchagi ふちゃぎ, that are eaten. It is mochi, a.k.a. “rice cakes” (possibly flavored with brown sugar, yomogi/mugwort, beniimo, or just plain) covered in azuki beans. I will add more posts about beans in the future, but basically beans are known to drive out or keep away demons (oni 鬼). I have no real good idea as to why beans hold such mystical powers, but almost every holiday or celebration involves beans in some way.
For my celebration, I mixed in a little Chinese mooncakes, as well as Okinawan fuchagi, and Japanese dango 団子. Very multi-cultural. I also drank some wine, set up some pampas (susuki ススキ) grass, but did not write any poetry (haiku 俳句)… sorry Moon.
There is also a children’s song; Japanese people believe you can see a rabbit pounding mochi in the moon. The song and translation is something like this:
うさぎ うさぎ Rabbit, rabbit
うさぎ うさぎ Rabbit, rabbit
何見て はねる What are you watching while hopping/leaping around?
十五夜お月さま The Juugoya moon
見てはねる is what I watch while hopping/leaping around!
In Itoman, a large Tug-of-War (tsunahiki) is held on Juugoya; many places will have lion dances 獅子舞 (shishimai) or other festive events, such as hounen-matsuri 豊年祭 (Harvest festivals), during this time of year, to celebrate the moon, the changing of seasons, and harvest time.
Shuri-jo holds a Mid-Autumn banquet (Chuushuu no utage 中秋の宴) festival around Juugoya and Autumn Equinox. During the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom, a banquet was held to entertain the Chinese emperor envoys, and today a moon-viewing party reenacts the “Mid-Autumn Banquet” in the present day. There is a parade, and a King and Queen contest is held. At this festival, you can see kumiodori (traditional Ryukyuan dance), beautiful costumes, and traditional music, as the castle is lit up at night.
In Okinawa, Juugoya is also falls on one of the days for taking care of the family hinukan (read more on the link).
Muuchii ムーチー (鬼餅) is Okinawa’s version of Japanese mochi もち (餅). It is made with glutinous rice flour, however that is seemingly where the similarities end. Muuchii is fairly simple to make and the ingredients can easily be found in the grocery.
*you may see muuchii also spelled as: muchi or muuchi in Roman characters.
The muuchii is prepared with the desired flavor and shaped into rectangle-ish shapes, placed in the center of the shell ginger leaf (sannin サンニン, 月桃 in Okinawan). Sannin is used because it is believed to have anti-bacterial and healing properties. It is then wrapped like a little package and tied, then steamed for a few minutes. So ono!
It is sometimes called カーサムーチー caasa muuchii; カーサ caasa refers to “leaves” as in the sannin leaves used to wrap the muuchii.
There are many different flavors that are used. One is Okinawan brown sugar 黒糖 “kokutou.” Another popular flavor is purple sweet potato, beniimo 紅芋. I have also made taro flavor; this has many names (I probably need an entire post on this). Tanmu ターンム or taamu ターム in Okinawan (dependent on location, as Okinawa language has many variations), and taimo 田芋 in Japanese. You can also find plain flavors (these are often labeled as 白 white or 赤 red/pink), as well as yomogi よもぎ (mugwort), ninjin 人参 (carrot), and kabocha かぼちゃ (pumpkin).
**Muuchii-no-hi ムーチーの日 is on 12/8 of the lunar calendar; this date is very important to Okinawans. Especially those that have a new baby in the family– they are supposed to make and distribute muuchii to everyone they know! Those with children hang up on a long string in the house the number of muuchii for every year of age, 1 strand for each child. It is eaten as a lucky charm for the prayer of health and longevity.
**muuchii-biisa ムーチービーサ is a saying that it is “muuchii-cold” outside. This means it is so cold, one must eat muuchii (very filling and takes a long time to digest) in order to preserve their stamina!