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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogKagami Mochi: The Best Traditional Treat for the New Year!

Kagami Mochi: The Best Traditional Treat for the New Year!

Devon Lord-MoncriefDevon Lord-Moncrief
Published Time
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December 28, 2023
Kagami mochi surrounded by New Year's decorations.

Japan has a significant New Year tradition: kagami mochi. It’s a traditional food symbolizing the passage of each year, family, and good luck. This treat has stayed the same for centuries, being simple to make and obtain. Discover how Japan uses these attractive and tasty treats to celebrate the New Year!

What is kagami mochi?

Kagami mochi (“mirror rice cakes”) are small snacks made from rice. They consist of two rice cakes, one large and one small, stacked on each other. A daidai, a bitter orange, is placed on top of the two cakes.

To rice cakes on a shrine.
Kagami mochi are in important New Year’s tradition. Image via Shutterstock

Occasionally, konbu and dried persimmons are also placed under the mochi, but this is only sometimes the case. Three items are traditionally used to present the rice cakes. First, a stand called a sanpō is covered with a leaf called a shihōbeni. The rice cakes are then placed on the sanpo set up in a unique Shinto altar at home.

When did people first start eating kagami mochi?

Two rice cakes with a bitter orange on top.
People started eating kagami mochi in the Muromachi period. Image via Shutterstock

People first began making kagami mochi during the Muromachi period between the 14th and 16th centuries. What is especially astounding about this traditional mochi is how little they have changed over the past 500 to 700 hundred years. They are still made from rice cakes and daidai and are still used in the same way. It’s comforting to know that some things simply remain the same.

What is the legend behind these rice cakes?

Despite their simple appearance and structure, the kagami mochi have great symbolism and meaning. The two mochi disks are said to represent several things. They are said to represent the past year and the coming year. They also stand for yin and yang, and the disks symbolize the human heart.

The daidai symbolizes the family and the progress of each generation within the family. The kagami mochi take their name from their resemblance to ancient copper mirrors, which had religious significance.

Someone holding kagami mochi in the store.
They’re available at most supermarkets! Image via Shutterstock

Today, the kagami mochi are said to help prevent fires in the homes of those who place them. It is customary to place them on the Shinto altar in front of every house! However, if there is no such altar, they are placed in the living room or kitchen.

They ward off bad luck, provide security for the whole year and symbolize the positive passage of time in a family. These unique rice cakes are traditionally broken and eaten on the second Saturday or Sunday in January!

A bowl of sweet red bean zenzai soup.
Zenzai is red bean soup. Image via Shutterstock

This is a ceremony known as kagami biraki (mirror breaking). In recent years, this ceremony has become an essential tradition for martial artists, with styles such as judo, aikido, and karate adopting the practice.

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Where can I buy them?

Most supermarkets and convenience stores stock these rice cakes today, which is incredibly useful. Even though it is still possible to make your own at home, for some, the sheer ease and convenience of buying pre-made ones can’t be beaten.

A bowl of oshiruko soup.
Image via Shutterstock

And as long as they are of high quality and appropriately used at home, there is nothing wrong with buying them store-made. Some mochi that can be store-bought are very cute and attractive and make beautiful gifts.

What can I use these rice cakes for?

After the New Year celebrations, the kagami mochi is broken and cooked into other Japanese dishes, such as zenzai (sweet red bean marmalade), shiruko (sweet red bean soup), wagashi (Japanese confection), and zoni (New Year soup) to make it easier to eat.

A plate of senbei rice cakes.
Senbei are one of the most popular Japanese snacks in the world! Image via Shutterstock

It can also be made into senbei (rice crackers) and used in other recipes. The size of the kagami mochi depends on how big you would like them to be served, and it is typically made from sweet rice cakes. A traditional kagami mochi recipe includes glutinous rice flour, sugar, water, and potato starch for dusting.

Why should I try kagami mochI?

Kagami mochi are versatile and essential treats that are both components for New Year’s ceremonies and simple Japanese snacks. Even if you don’t have a dedicated Shinto altar in your home, you can always place them elsewhere, so there’s no reason to fret. These ancient snacks represent hope, positivity, and good luck not just for yourself but for your entire family for the upcoming year. 

A kagami mochi on a stand.
Would you evet try kagami mochi? Image via Shutterstock

Incredibly, such small rice cakes can bear so much value and importance, but that’s the beauty of these classic treats: there’s so much significance packed into such small cakes. Whether you make your mochi or buy them from a store or buy them strictly for their traditional purposes or just to enjoy eating them, kagami mochi are simple but versatile.

Have you bought kagami mochi before? Did you use them for New Year’s traditions or just to eat? What variety did you have, the traditional two cakes, or did they have additional ingredients? Please feel free to let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear how you celebrated the New Year!

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