Heavy Hammers, Chewy Mochi and Super-Sized Sumo at the ELC

The Early Learning Center has a long history of embracing Japanese holidays and culture as a platform for activities that introduce children to Japanese arts and crafts, music, food, traditional clothing, children’s literature, games and toys. Although this rich study extends through the entire year, many of the cultural activities take place between January and March, beginning with mochi, sumo and taiko.

On January 12, the ELC welcomed 2018 by exploring and celebrating the New Years tradition of Mochi Pounding Day, which our students have looked forward to each year for nearly 40 years.  For the first time ever, two kindergarten classes from our Chofu campus ventured downtown to join the ELC in their mochi-day festivities.

Preceding the big day, students and teachers prepared  by reading about how to make authentic mochi. They explored the subject in more detail by making observations about the rice—noting characteristics such as size, color and feel. The day before, everyone took turns washing the polished, glutinous rice and then let it soak overnight.

With the rice prepared, the entire ELC along with our Chofu kindergarteners welcomed Kanie-san and his three associates from the Azabu-Juban Neighborhood Association. Everyone donned happi coats (traditional festival attire), joined their parents and, with the help of Kanie-san and his team, came together to pound the steamed rice to chants of “yosho! yosho! yosho!” The room went silent shortly afterwards as students enjoyed the chewy mochi.

ELC students took mochi pounding day as an opportunity to train for another upcoming cultural experience. They hefted the heavy hammer and ate extra mochi in preparation a their annual sumo-showdown.

Training for their big sumo bouts continued after mochi pounding by what can only be described as an arduous days-long training regime and, on February 5, students finally hit the mat, going belly-to-belly with two professional sumo wrestlers.

Sponsored by the ELC PTA, students and teachers welcomed wrestlers Fujihisashi (富士寿) and Byakko (白虎), from Azumazeki-beya (東関部屋), a sumo training stable here in Tokyo, ready to put their countless recess hours of training to practice.

After learning the pre-match rituals and rules-of-the-ring with Hisako Shimizu (ELC teacher), who acted as the gyoji (referee), our ELC student sumo went one-on-one (and sometimes ten-on-one) with the visiting professionals. Their training paid off, as our wee wrestlers managed to win every single match. Fujihisashi and Byakko left exhausted, but with plenty of treats and gifts of gratitude.

Sumo was followed by taiko on February 12 and the cultural learning will soon continue at the ELC with additional activities.