Mochi rice cakes and the folklore surrounding its making constitutes the core of New Year’s celebrations in Japan. The status of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity inscribed to washoku in December 2013, clearly specifies that ‘the basic knowledge and the social and cultural characteristics associated with Washoku are typically seen during New Year celebrations. The Japanese make various preparations to welcome the deities of the incoming year, pounding rice cakes and preparing special meals and beautifully decorated dishes using fresh ingredients, each of which has a symbolic meaning’ (http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/index.php?lg=en&pg=00011&RL=00869 ). While the Japanese enthusiastically welcomed the addition of Japanese cuisine to the list of World Intangible Heritage, it seems very unlikely that the traditional practice of pounding rice cakes by hand will experience a revival any time soon. This is simply because mochitsuki – pounding steamed rice using wooden mallets and a mortar is a very labour intensive activity that requires not only skill and experience, but also muscular strength and endurance. The majority of Japanese households who today still engage in mochi preparation at home, rather than to purchase them ready-made, leave the mallet and mortar to the professionals and use rice-pounding machines instead, as do most Japanese communities outside Japan.

The very idea of inscribing cuisines as intangible cultural heritage is problematic, as I and others have argued before. Culinary crafts are a different story. We need to make sure that the skills and knowledge of artisan cheese makers, brewers, bakers and confectioners be preserved before they are swept away by cheaper alternatives. Here is a task for UNESCO to focus on!