Pounding Mochi


Yesterday we made mochi, a traditional Japanese New Year’s rice cake. Nadia and I love the dessert of a strawberry wrapped in sweet bean paste and mochi. It was interesting to see the entire process of rice to the finished cake.

The Latter Day Saints congregation of Toyonaka annually holds a mochi-making day and since we have friends in the church, we went along. Making mochi as a family is a traditional activity at New Years and it is consumed in great quantities in Japan. I guess an equivalent in the west would be the Christmas fruitcake. Different types of mochi desserts are also featured during sakura (cherry blossom) season and Children’s Day (May 5) and Girl’s Day (March 3).

As with most things in Japan, the process is labor-intensive! A short-grained, sweet and sticky rice variety soaked overnight. It is then steamed and pounded with large wooden mallets (kine) in a huge mortar (usu). As you can see in the video above, it is a two-person operation, with one person wetting and shaping the mochi between strikes of the mallet. Timing is key here! There were no accidents, although I learned that you need to hit the roll of mochi and not the mortar as splinters from the wooden mallet may get into the finished mochi. If you don’t want the exercise and risk of a smashed finger, there is a modern appliance to do the same, and it produces a more homogenous smooth mochi. I prefer the old-fashioned method!


Shaping the mochi into rolls, ready to be used for assembling the final cake


Since it has a bland taste, anything can be added to mochi, either sweet (chocolate, bean paste, fruit) or savory (shrimp). The Japanese have been making mochi for over 2,000 years! For a long time it was a holy food and reserved only for nobility, but over time, it became a common food.


modern mochi appliance


It is quite healthy food, being basically water and rice and is free of gluten and cholesterol. It does pack some calories, however, as a typical serving is the same as a bowl of rice. Samurai used to take it on expeditions because it was easy to carry and prepare and was packed with calories. It is something like an ancient Clif Bar or energy bar that modern hikers carry on the trail.


wrapping strawberries


Thanks to the Toyonaka group for allowing us to share this cultural experience!


Visit to Miyajima


Cousins at the Top of Mount Misen

It was a more uplifting day on the beautiful island of Miya, just off the Hiroshima coast. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the over 900-year old Shinto shrine with the famous torii in the tidal bay. My favorite part of the day was the hike to the observation point on top of the 1,725-foot Mount Misen with my sons and nephew. We a lot of laughs on the trail. At the top, the boys were sitting together and so I snapped the really nice photo above. It is such a privilege to see them grow up and this teenage phase is just as fun as all the rest. I love the adventurous male spirit in them!


The views of the Seto Inland Sea and the small islands bordering the coast are spectacular. The inland sea is a section of the Pacific Ocean that is sheltered between the islands of Honshu and Shikoku, two of the four major Japanese islands.



Oliver and Marita sampling the famous oysters from Miyajima


Nadia, Marita and Ocean spent the afternoon walking around the village and checking out the various shrines and temples. I sampled a Miyajima Maple Leaf Ale from the Miyajima Brewing Company. We had a delicous dinner to finish the day. We sampled the seafood from the region.


Only in Japan – a dog with a hat and glasses! 




In front of the Atomic Dome – Hiroshima Peace Park

This is my second visit to the Atomic Bomb Peace Park in Hiroshima. On August 6, 1945 8:15 AM, the first atomic bomb used in war was detonated pretty much directly above us. The area is now a memorial park dedicated the idea of peace and never using nuclear weapons. With the leaders of North Korea and the USA going back and forth today, threatening using their nuclear weapons, it felt appropriate to have us remember the tragic destruction of the city so many years ago.

I was thinking of the words of Pope John Paul II when he visited in Hiroshima in 1981. As a father and educator, I am surrounded by young people all the time. The words of the Pope ring true still today and are needed even more so…

To young people everywhere, I say: let us together create a new future of fraternity and solidarity; let us reach out towards our brothers and sisters in need, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, free the downtrodden, bring justice where injustice reigns and peace where only weapons speak. Your young hearts have an extraordinary capacity for goodness and love; put them at the service of your fellow human beings.

I would like to think that after so many wars and violence that have taken place on earth, that we would have learned to get along by now. I was moved today reading the inscriptions of the children’s memorial. The innocent are the ones that suffer most in war and there are no reasons to go to war.


Hiroshima Peace Watch

The 122 days marks the nuclear test by North Korea on September 22, 2017. They had a sign announcing the test.



We finished the day by visiting the Ho No Yu Onsen. After an hour in the sauna, various hot baths, etc. the winter winds feel like a refreshing spring breeze! It is so nice the communal feel of public bathing and relaxing. Only in Japan!


Family Journal: January 2, 2018


Drinking for my health!

It was a mellow day at home with the family. The highlight was a walk around the neighborhood with my sister-in-law, Alejandra and a visit to our local Shinto shrine. On the days after the New Year, the Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines are full of people paying respect to their ancestors and praying for a good 2018.

The Kasuga Shrine in our neighborhood had serve-yourself amazake drink station. Amazake is a fermented rice drink that is sweeter than sake and has less alcohol. The fermentation process gives it lots of nutrients. It is traditionally served at shrines and is regarded as a winter drink in Japan.


Marita poses on the old road to Kyoto


I forget how nice and peaceful it is to live in our neighborhood of Onohara-nishi. Seeing it through the eyes of a visitor helps me see the landscape with fresh eyes. There are plenty of farmers’ fields mixed with parks and traditional Japanese homes. It was a beautiful winter walk this afternoon.

I did some school work in the morning and went for a bike ride around Expo Park. Nadia made a delicious dinner of salmon. The kids played at the park for most of the afternoon.


Ocean with her friend Lily at Matsuide Park 



Happy New Year from the Kralovec Family


Katsuo-ji Temple – Minoh, Japan

It is traditional in Japan to visit a temple to honor your ancestors and pray for good fortune in the next year. We made the pilgrimage to the Katsuo-ji Temple, located in the hills above Minoh. It was a beautiful day for a walk and even the kids, after complaining about having to get outside, enjoyed the afternoon hike. We walked 5 kilometers up the forested hills to reach the temple.

Trail through the Minoh Forest


There were many people paying their respects and purchasing the various good luck charms (omamori). We lit candles for all of our dead relatives. We walked back down while the sun was setting. Nadia had prepared homemade cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate for all of us. A nice way to start 2018. Happy New Year!

I am as always, optimistic for 2018. My resolutions are geared towards health this year. I want to eat less food, stretch/yoga to increase my flexibility and meditate to reduce anxiety. and bring a calm, clarity to my thinking. I also want to work out a long-term health insurance plan for my old age.

Happy Walkers!


Winter Wonderland!


I’ve discovered the Hira Mountains during this holiday break and continue to explore them. It is the closest snow to us in Osaka (90-minute drive) and I love hiking, so I’ve been “encouraging” family and friends to join me. Moving in the cold white beauty of a forest in December refreshes my soul. They say pleasures are harder to find as one ages, but our ascent/descent to Gotenyama (Goten Mountain) was not quite rapture, but pure contentment!


The Hira Mountain range is only 15 kilometers in length and 10 kilometers at its widest point. The highest point is Mount Bunagatake which is 1,214 meters (3,984 ft). They abut the eastern shore of Lake Biwa. Despite being a small range, in winter they are extremely beautiful and one of my favorite places in Japan.

My nephew and sister-in-law are visiting and along with another family of 6 people, I led a large party of winter explorers up the steep trail leaving the village of Bomura. Leaving portions of our group at two points along the way, Owen, Evan and I made it to Goten Yama, one of the landmarks of the range. As one climbed, the snow got deeper. The Japanese love hiking, so there were plenty of crampons and boots to pank the snow trail. Note to reader, the term “pank” means to tightly pack down snow and is from the regional dialect of my home on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.


I am a minimalist by nature and when I am walking in the forest, I do not like a lot of gear. My Nike running shoes and tracksuit served me well as I used layers of clothes to keep warm, but flexible. Hikers in Japan love the gear, so everyone we ran into had poles, crampons, heavy boots, waterproof suits and some even helmets. We got over the difficulty of descending the steep, snow-covered slopes by sliding down on our backsides or hopping through the snow.

The kids enjoyed the outing! Nadia prepared delicious sandwiches, that went well with hot chocolate. Between throwing snowballs and careening down the slopes on their bellies, I heard lots of laughter. Even Nadia had fun, feeling at ease with more time in the winter mountains and having the support of friends.

Hiking the Hira Mountains


The Snow of the Hira Mountains


Winter means snow to me and growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a place of long, snowy winters. Whenever I am in the snow, it brings me back to my childhood. Thankfully Osaka, which has a similar climate to Atlanta, Georgia and rarely gets snow, is close to the Hira Mountains. I took Oliver and Owen up for an afternoon of snowball fights and walking in the quiet woods. It is so refreshing and relaxing at the same time.

We had so much fun and it was one of those days I won’t forget. Once again, we didn’t make it to the top of Bun Ga Take, the 4,000-foot peak in the Hira range. The snow was too deep and we got off to a late start. We will try again tomorrow and leave in the morning.