Kagami Mochi: Ringing In the New Year with Mochi

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Have you ever seen the iconic image of a tangerine, two mochi cakes (Japanese rice cakes) – one small and one big – placed on top of one another? This is called Kagami mochi – a traditional rice cake used for decoration on the New year’s day in Japan. Surely, you must wonder about the origin, as well as the meaning, behind this special cake. Learn all you need to know about kagami mochi with us to understand this treat!

What is Kagami Mochi?

Kagami mochi is a Japanese traditional cake made up of two sticky rice cakes stacked on top of each other. This cake is offered to the gods on New Year’s Day with a desire to show respect to the gods, receive blessings from them, and pray for a peaceful, prosperous, and favorable New Year all at the same time. 

Far from being just an offering of cake, Kagami mochi is believed to be the place where the God of Luck, Toshigami-sama, resides on New’s Year’s Day. In other words, this dish is truly above other New Year’s foods, even osechi ryori (Japanese New Year box meals).

A replica of Kagami mochi sits in a wooden box with a tangerine and a string on top in front of a gold folding screen.
This mochi cake is so iconic that you may even find it sitting in store and business displays after New Year’s. Image via Shutterstock

The main ingredients used to make Kagami Mochi are traditional Japanese sticky rice and sweet sticky rice, so the cake is both delightfully sticky and has a richness when mixed with other ingredients. Making a Kagami Mochi sticky rice cake usually requires a lot of hand-crafting stages with both care and attention to detail, so the high quality and simple deliciousness of these rice cakes always leaves you fulfilled on New Year’s.

Moreover, this type of mochi does not use any flavorings, colorings, or preservatives. Thus, the natural delicious taste of the rice cake is retained and can be enjoyed by any member of the family.

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The Origin of Kagami Mochi

According to ancient documents, Kagami mochi appeared during the Muromachi period (1336-1573). In Japanese, Kagami means mirror. It is said that this mochi cake has the same shape as the ancient Yata no Kagami round bronze mirror, which is one of the three sacred treasures of Japan. 

On the other hand, the ancient Japanese often believed that mirrors were the sanctuary of gods. Therefore, the name Kagami mochi was born and has the meaning of worshiping the gods.

This type of cake used to be placed in many parts of the house. However, today, it is often placed in one location and used to honor the gods during the main New Year’s holidays. Some families also place the cake in a small corner to serve as a decoration for the family.

Kagami Mochi Decorations

Kagami mochi sits on a golden pedestal with an intricate ribbon on white, red, and gold, in front of  a white and black fan with a dog figure sitting on the fan.
The symbols used to decorate Kagami mochi are important and often use colors like gold, red, and white because of their ties to fortune and good luck. Image via Shutterstock

Japanese people also pay great attention to the decorations. They often use other decorations to accompany the Kagami mochi cake, which are:

Daidai tangerines: These are used to pray for your children and grandchildren’s eternal prosperity. This is because, in Japanese, the pronunciation of the word ‘eternal’ is the same as that of the tangerine’s name (daidai).

A Wand with a lobe thread: This is a symbol of exorcism, helping to bring prosperity in business and success in work.

Red and white paper: This is used to wish for peace, banishing bad luck.

Fern leaves: These are to wish for longevity and a long happy life.

Kagami Mochi in the Life of the Japanese 

Kagami mochi sits on a white and red paper on a green plate on a tray in front of a window in a Japanese home.
This tiered mochi cake even has a deeper meaning that makes it important to Japanese people. Image via Shutterstock

Kagami mochi uses the image of two round stacked cakes to represent both the sun and moon or the old year and the new year. This is also a symbol of the family’s longevity from this generation to another. In addition, the round shape of this Japanese New Year food is also a symbol of affluence, fullness, and joy. 

The time to prepare and enjoy the cake, called Kagami Biraki, is usually done after the New Year holidays, from about January 7th to January 11th. Depending on the region, there are also places that do it around January 15th to January 20th. 

Kagami Biraki includes the custom of breaking Kagami mochi and using it to make dishes such as ozoni soup (a soup with baked rice cakes) or shiruko (red bean soup). In addition to those ways of eating it, people also often fry the cake with oil, then sprinkle it with salt or soy sauce. 

According to the Japanese concept, the purpose of eating Kagami mochi cake is not only to wish for a good year, but those who eat the cake will be blessed with health and longevity by the gods.

How do people in your country celebrate New Year’s Days? Do you have a special dish like kagami mochi to enjoy during these days like the Japanese? Share with us your way of ringing the new year in the comment below!

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