Story and photo by Paul Long, FLEACT, Yokosuka Public Affairs
U.S. Navy and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Chief Petty Officers and their family members, gathered for the 27th Annual Mochi Pounding festival, Dec. 14.
The Mochi Pounding Festival took place at the JMSDF Yokosuka District Headquarters, located a 15-minute walk from Fleet Activities (FLEACT), Yokosuka.
Mochi pounding festivals take place at the end of the year all over Japan. Mochi is made from pounding hot steamed rice into a sticky paste using a mallet. The sticky paste is hand kneaded into cakes and sometimes flavored with either a sweet read bean paste (Anko-Mochi) toasted soybean powder; with sugar and kinako, a sweet powdered flour (Kinako-mochi); or wrapped in seaweed (Isobe-Mochi).
Per Japanese tradition, the mochi is offered to their gods on New Year’s Day, offerings for and good health for the upcoming year.
According to JMSDF Master Chief Electronics Technician Naoki Matsuzawa, assigned to the Liaison Office, Naval District Yokosuka, on board FLEACT, Yokosuka, this event started to strengthen the a bond between the JMSDF Chief Petty Officer’s Association (CPOA) and the U.S. Navy’s CPOA’s.
“We understand how each other thinks by doing an event in cooperation with the U.S. Navy,” Matsuzawa said. “We can deepen each other’s friendship by participating in the same event with each other.”
FLEACT, Yokosuka Command Master Chief, Martin King, has attended this festival every year since 1996 and has seen this event grow over the years.
“We went from a very small group that would just get together,” said King. “This has gone from maybe 25 people to over 1,000 people today. Although this is primary a social and traditional event, it builds the camaraderie between both us and the Japanese, and when we do go to work together on our ships, exercises, or when we have to take the fight to the enemy, we already know how to interact with each other.”
U.S. Sailors cooked up traditional American barbeque foods such as hot dogs, chicken, hamburgers, ribs, baked beans, and potato chips, and Japanese Sailors grilled pork and chicken, yakitori, yakisoba, and also steamed vegetables. Americans and Japanese both contributed to the pounding of the rice into mochi.
A local Japanese band, “The Fruitys” played a variety of music from the 60s and 70s as well as American Christmas carols.
Santa Claus, portrayed by Senior Chief Intelligence Specialist Sky Shaw, who is assigned to Commander, Naval Forces Japan, arrived at the festival on the back of a fire truck, passed out candy to the kids, and later posed for photos with them.
“This is quite an event. There are a lot people having a good time,” said Shaw. “This brings everyone together, not just the active duty Sailors, but their families.”