Otsukimi at the Arboretum

By Maria Garcia

Have you ever heard of Otsukimi? Don’t worry if you haven’t. In fact, I hadn’t either until a week before the Otsukimi at the National Arboretum. It’s a traditional viewing and appreciation of the Harvest Moon. Ms. Sally (my mentor) asked the class if we had checked Facebook for the event. Although I had not heard about it, I was interested because we were told we could use our Japanese we had been learning. Some other kids were also interested and said that they would come along. So when Saturday came we were all excited and ready for the Otsukimi.

When everyone was at the Otsukimi, dinner was on everyone’s mind. For dinner we had bento boxes which were filled with fish, meat, egg, nori, rice, squash, seaweed, and so much more. Dinner had a neat trick to it though because to eat dinner you needed to know how to use chopsticks.

After dinner we all went for a walk and saw some bonsai trees. The bonsai are super amazing because these trees go through training and many are over a hundred years old. As we walked around, we found the night getting cooler. So we went in and tried the mochi pounding. Mochi pounding was a new concept for me and made me appreciate mochi a lot. This process of mochi required two people – one who wet and turned the mochi and the other who would hit the mochi with a big hammer called a kine. The mochi is placed into the usu and kine are used to form the mochi.

After a short break we went inside to listen to the Koto players. Then after some time the koto players came out and played a song. I enjoyed this because when I went to Japan, the students from the high school performed for us. I remembered how much fun that was, and we ended our night of fun. The koto is played using all ten fingers with these special guitar picks which are put into the fingertips and the strings are plucked. The koto sounds more resembles a sitar but if you have never heard of a sitar, just think of a guitar with a higher pitch.

We had a break time during the night and went for a walk. During this walk we played tag and made our way to the columns. After we ran around for some time, the columns were a great place to walk, and we noticed it was really dark. We kept at least one flashlight on, as we explored the surrounding area. Then we noticed we had gone far and decided it was best to head back. Someone went back alone, and we all decided to stick together instead of separate. We went back the path we came from, but as much as we wanted to continue to explore, we decided it was getting late and that our friends should not travel alone. The walk back was just as fun, as we told stories and wishes for the upcoming year. Our group had so much fun and when we got back we were all tired. The night soon ended and we all went off in our own direction. The best part was knowing that our group was fun to be around with and all cared about one another.

Special thanks to the Japan-America Society of Washington, DC for hosting this special program.

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