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Photo: TARUMI Kengo

Okinawan rice cakes used to be made by stone-grinding watered glutinous rice—or pounding them after soaking them in water—and then steamed. In recent days, they are usually made with powdered glutinous rice and kneaded with water. Among them, the ones made on December 8th of the lunar calendar are called mūchī (鬼餅, ogre rice cake). At this time, kneaded rice powder is stretched flat in a slender rectangular shape and wrapped in shell ginger or fountain palm leaves to be steamed. The ones wrapped in shell ginger, which gives a sweet scent, have a special popularity and nowadays they can be bought at a sweet shop in town all year round. Some are flavored with muscovado.   

Mūchī has the role of driving out evil spirits. They are offered to family Buddhist or Shinto altars and stoves to pray for the family’s health, especially that of the children. Once upon a time, an older brother and a little sister lived in Kanagushiku, Shuri. As the brother moved into Ozato, he became a man-devouring ogre. In order to slay this ogre, his sister made a rice cake and an iron cake when he came to visit Shuri. The sister ate the rice cake herself, giving the iron cake to her brother. While the brother was perplexed by the inedible cake, the sister sat before him with the bottom of her kimono open. The brother saw her nether lips and asked what it was. “The upper lips are for eating rice cakes, the nether lips are for eating ogres,” answered the sister. Startled, the brother slipped off the cliff and died—this is the famous origin of the mūchī. Hence, it is a blessed rice cake that drives ogres away.