The art of Mochitsuki was historically practiced at the end of the year by both Shinto and Buddhist religious groups. Presently, it is an art that has evolved to include many groups and considered an ethnic secular custom of the Japanese people without a religious meaning. The significance of the Mochitsuki can be found in the special value rice had in ancient Japan. Rice in ancient Japan was a food used only for special occasions and holidays and was offered as one of the first crops to the Gods. In Shinto tradition, each grain of rice symbolized a "tamashii" or human soul. Therefore, pounding the rice cakes represented a million souls. When the community pounded the rice with the kine, each person could then reflect on the Gods' blessing and reflect over the events of the previous year. So, the act of pounding and handling the rice was a self purifying or self reflective act.
Added by hawaii on August 5, 2007