The Aomori style of sasa mochi is made by kneading and mixing sticky rice flour and anko (red bean paste), and then steaming it. Grandma Misao’s sasa mochi is moist and has a refined sweetness. The only ingredients she uses are home-grown azuki (red beans); home-milled, Aomori-grown sticky rice; sugar and salt. She picks the sasa leaves herself as she makes her way through the mountains. She uses delicious spring water, which is pumped from the ground, to wash, cook, and steam the rice, and then quickly wraps the rice cakes with sasa leaves. For the leaf wrapping, she opens the leaves and closes them again in one quick motion. Her largest wholesaler is a local supermarket and outside the snowy season, she rides her bicycle twice a week to the supermarket to deliver 600 rice cakes. In addition to orders for her regular customers in various regions, she also makes sasa mochi free of charge for the elderly facilities in her community. She handles the entire process herself, which ranges from gathering the ingredients to filling the bags. She spends the night in her workshop and gets started in the early hours of the morning. She makes over 50,000 rice cakes a year.

 

What made her want to start this business? She came up with the idea after paying a visit to a nursing home with a fujinkai (women’s association) when she brought some millet rice cakes with her to serve to the elderly residents. She was over 60 at the time. The elderly women, after tasting the rice cakes, were all looking down. When she looked more carefully, she noticed that the women had tears in their eyes. Since she had made the elderly women so happy, she continued her pursuit of making the perfect local sweet, and was able to come up with a one-of-a-kind sasa mochi that was safe for the elderly to eat, that they would not choke on, and one that would last for a long time despite being free of additives. After her sasa mochi gained in popularity, at the age of 75, Grandma Misao had her own workshop built to accommodate the large amount of orders she was receiving, and launched her business. She does not hesitate to teach her techniques for making the sasa mochi to high school students in the city or to women in her neighborhood. She did all of this to pass on Tsugaru’s precious food culture.

 

Misao Kuwata

Born in Nakadomari-machi in 1927. Worked at the Hirosaki University Farm and a childcare center after that. Won the 2011 Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Award. Won the 2014 Hometown Community Building Award. Her recent book is titled Okagesamade Chumon no Ooi Sasamochiya Desu (Thanks to your support, my sasa mochi shop is doing well) (Publisher: Shogakukan).

Cooperation: Tsugaru Railway Company; Kazuo Akimoto, Goshogawara City RINRI Hojinkai Consultant

Translation: Media Research, Inc.

 

This article originally appeared in “Shinsei” magazine, March 2017 issue, published by RINRI Institute of Ethics. Partially rewritten to update for this internet release.

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