Story and photos by MC1 Chris Fahey, NMCB 3 Public Affairs
LS1 Robert Franke, left, and EO1 Pete Izarra, NMCB 3 help children from the Kanasa Nursery School make traditional Mochi balls during a cultural exchange at the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force base (JMSDF).
Twenty Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3 joined Sailors assigned to Commander, Fleet Activities Okinawa (CFAO) and the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) in creating hundreds of traditional Mochi rice balls for children from the nearby Kanasa Nursery School, Wednesday.
The 3rd annual Mochi ball throwdown served as an opportunity for the two Naval forces to herald in the Holiday Season while also giving back to members of the local community.
EA1 Willie Blanding, left, NMCB 3, chats with Commander, Fleet Activities Okinawa Capt. Michael Michel during a cultural exchange at the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force base.
CE2 Lisa Sperhake, right, NMCB 3, joins CFAO Sailors in smashing rice to make traditional Mochi balls.
“Being away from family is always hard, especially when the holiday months come knocking,” said EO1 Pete Izarra, a volunteer from NMCB 3. “Meeting other Navy types from the area, our Japanese counterparts and having a great day with the kids was a great way to spend a sunny day. Okinawa is an incredibly good natured place, and it was awesome doing something meaningful for the community.”
The volunteers all spent the day smashing specially prepared Mochi rice in large stone and wood muddling pots. Once flattened into a paste, the batches were placed on a flowered table where volunteers joined the children in hand carving fist-sized balls. The balls were then filled with a sweet bean paste, dipped in a special broth then caked in a brown seasoning.
“They were so good!” said EO1 Manny Figueroa, another volunteer from NMCB 3. “It reminded me of some of the special desserts we make at my house during the holidays.”
When finished, the volunteers capped the day by performing a contemporary dance with the nursery school children. When the music stopped, the children all turned to the volunteers in unison, bowed and thanked them in Japanese.
“I can’t think of a more unique way of kicking off the Holiday Season then sharing this experience with our friends in the JMSDF and the Seabees,” said CFAO Commander Navy Capt. Michael Michel. “This was truly a great day.”
NMCB 3 is a vital component of the U.S. Maritime Strategy, providing details deployed to Okinawa, Atsugi and Yokosuka, Japan; Chinhae, Republic of Korea; China Lake and San Clemente Island, Calif; Timor-Leste, Tonga, Cambodia and the Republic of the Philippines each independently capable of providing disaster preparation and recovery support, humanitarian assistance and combat operations support.