In 2017 I visited Mochitsuki, a festival in Portland that celebrates the new year Japanese-style. You can see my detailed review of the event that year here.
While I did enjoy myself in 2017, to be honest I had mixed feelings about the experience. It wasn’t just the long line for the Mochitsuki activity, it was more about the venue being too small––I had bad memories of squeezing through narrow hallways packed with people, and struggling to figure out what to do next. And, to be honest, I’ve seen so many taiko drum presentations in my time the magic was long worn off.
When I heard the festival was happening again, but at a different venue than in 2017 (I’m not sure about the years in-between), after some consideration I decided to try going again.
I was pleasantly surprised; despite a fairly similar lineup of activities and food, the larger venue really improved the atmosphere, and even though there was still a large turnout it didn’t feel too crowded most of the time. The exception was waiting in an extremely long line for desert, but that was well worth it! We got to meet and spend time with more friends than last time, and getting to speak Japanese with people I don’t normally speak with is always a nice bonus.
While one of the reasons we moved to Portland was specifically for Japanese culture, it’s easy to forget that in busy daily life. But going to Mochitsuki for the first time in three years reminded me really how many Japanese people are in or around the Portland area, including native Japanese speakers, non-Japanese people that speak Japanese (I heard a few people with native-level speech), and non-Japanese people that may not speak Japanese but are really into the culture.
This time I also realized something interesting: while there were various types of Japanese culture on exhibit here, there was very little in terms of any explicit teaching of the language itself, or advertisements for anything like Japanese schools or tutors (unless I missed something). I guess this is logical, since anyone can buy a Japanese textbook, watch a Youtube video, or read an internet blog (like this one) to learn nearly unlimited things about the language. It is the cultural aspects that we really want to experience in person, using all of our senses.
But this made me think that while I am still genuinely interested in Japanese culture, most of the things I had seen at Mochitsuki were nothing new to me––though the taiko presentation this year was actually pretty good––and didn’t compare to my personal experiences exploring Japan. Also, I think part of me enjoys learning the language in a pure sense, down to the fine details of grammar and pronunciation, and I can enjoy that without necessarily experiencing some new cultural aspect of Japan.
Anyway, I know I’ve sort of went off on a tangent here, but I’m looking forward to Mochitsuki 2021. It’s a long time to wait, but hope to see you there next year!
To close, I’ll show a few quick photos that I took at the event to give you an idea of the atmosphere. You can also see my (rough) attempt at calligraphy (書道).