Ringing in the New Year at Niji-Iro!
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Second-grader Christina Hankins always looks forward to celebrating the new year with her classmates at Niji-Iro Japanese Immersion Elementary School.

It’s a New Year celebration that does not entail fireworks or countdowns or even Times Square.

At Niji-Iro Elementary in Livonia Public Schools, ringing in the new year means taking part in the traditional rice pounding practice called Mochi Tsuki (Mochi is “sweet rice” and Tsuki means “to pound”). Students take turns using the heavy wooden mallet to pound the rice and water into a soft dough-like mixture that is then seasoned one of three ways: with soy powder, soy sauce or sweet beans.

The students love this special treat.

“It tastes like peanut butter,” said Christina, with a smile.

Joining the fun were Livonia Public Schools Board of Education President Mark Johnson and Trustee Liz Jarvis. Students cheered them on, as they took the mallet and pounded the rice.

“There is always something exciting and different going on at Niji,” said Jarvis.

She enjoyed her first taste of Mochi Tsuki, too.

“It tastes better than it looks,” she said.

While students participated in the traditional pounding activity, parents were busy using more modern techniques to make more than 300 plates of the treats. Starting with a pressure rice-pounding machine, the parents formed an assembly line for cutting the soft mixture, dipping it in the flavors and plating a trio of Mochi for students, parents, staff and guests.

Niji-Iro Lead Administrator Lawrence DeLuca said the Mochi Tsuki party is just one example of the types of celebrations that are offered for the English native speakers and the Japanese native speaking students at the school.

“Celebrations like Mochi Tsuki are extremely important at Niji-Iro because it raises the cultural awareness of our students,” said DeLuca. “Having a dual language program is not just about learning the language, but also becoming immersed in the two cultures. By learning about other cultures, students are able to see the world from different perspectives, which makes them more globally-minded and empathetic citizens.”

Located off Levan, between Six Mile and Seven Mile, Niji-Iro serves more than 250 students in grades K-6. Students spend half of their day in English instruction and half in Japanese. Students may enter at kindergarten without prior English or Japanese language, but testing is required for new students entering grades 1-6. For more information, visit livoniapublicschools.org or call the school at (734) 744-2785.

Mochi Tsuki

Mochi Tsuki
School Board President Mark Johnson takes a turn at pounding the rice. 

Mochi Tsuki

Mochi Tsuki
School Board Trustee Liz Jarvis helps pound the rice. 

Mochi Tsuki

Mochi Tsuki
Parents prepare the Mochi for students, staff and guests. 

Mochi Tsuki