Mochi and Its Amazing Influence on Modern Design

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Three dango skewers of pink, green and blue with whipped cream and sesame seeds on top.

The charm of mochi rice cakes has inspired a new aesthetic in modern Japanese design, promoting visually attractive and mentally uplifting creations. Let’s explore how this delightful treat has influenced contemporary aesthetics, fusing culture and art for a delightful journey into Japanese design.

Mochi: The Treat

Mochi (もち, 餅) is a Japanese sweet with a chewy texture, primarily made from rice. Traditionally, people laboriously pound a particular type of rice called mochigome to make rice dough, which they then cut and shape into individual servings. The rice cakes can then be dusted with cornstarch or potato starch to prevent it from sticking to the plastic wrap in which it is served.

Artisans pounding mochi with wooden mallets.
Rice cakes are made by rhythmically pounding mochi. Image via Shutterstock

This traditional mochi preparation method is called mochitsuki. However, people have recently used sweet rice flour more commonly, which they can easily purchase at grocery stores. Mix it with water, heat it in a microwave-safe bowl, and prepare it in seconds without hours of preparation.

The simplicity of using glutinous rice flour in the mochi recipe makes the treat quite versatile.
When making the dough using rice flour, people can mix it with other ingredients, such as red beans (mame), fruit, grains, leaves, or sakura. They can even add ice cream to the center of frozen mochi to create mochi ice cream. In Hawaii, they add eggs, butter, coconut milk, and baking powder to make that island’s signature “butter mochi.”

Mochi as Part of Japanese Culture

Mochi is most popular around the Japanese New Year (shogatsu). But the Japanese rice cake is also commonly served at tea ceremonies and culturally significant events like hanami and Girl’s Day. The treat is so widespread that it even varies by region. Yatsuhashi is a type of mochi that is the most famous edible dessert in Kyoto. And Hokkaido is known for its imomochi, made from potatoes instead of rice. 

Rice cakes with kinoko powder on top.
Rice cakes are soft and round. Image via Shutterstock

This constant presence of the sweet in Japanese culture makes the mochi aesthetic even possible. The confectionery’s soft, chewy texture and association with holidays and celebrations remind one of warm, carefree times spent with friends and family. So it is no wonder the design world has looked to mochi to associate such a feeling with their products.

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Pop Culture Influences

The emergence of the mochi aesthetic is closely related to the rise of Japanese kawaii culture. Before the Hello Kitty craze in the 1970s and 80s, the design world was dominated by hard edges, corners, and serious colors. Today, “kawaii” strongly influences popular culture, but be can still be quite playful.

Cute rice cakes that resemble seals.
Mochi has also influenced kawaii culture in Japan! Image via Shutterstock

Moreover, the aesthetic replaces this playfulness with a more adult yearning for simpler times by incorporating minimalism, simplicity, and aspects of wabi-sabi. The result is a comfortable feeling, much like the nostalgia of consuming rice cakes at a Japanese holiday event.

General Look

The features of this aesthetic are unmistakable. People frown upon harsh lighting and prefer more transparent and minimalist rooms. They deliberately avoid straight lines or corners, opting for gentle, rounded edges. Forms are bulbous and lower to the ground as if squashed between the fingers like the mochi treats itself. The colors are soothing, like the various rice cake flavors. Furniture pieces are usually modular to facilitate custom combinations, encourage human interaction, and coax informal conversation.

Color Palette

The color palette of the mochi aesthetic is subtle and comforting. It utilizes the trademark pastel hues reminiscent of various flavors, such as light blue, pink, green, and lavender. The color choices produce a calm and soothing atmosphere when added to any space.

Soft beige round cushions that resemble rice cakes.
People use mochi as an inspiration for soft, round cushions. Image via Shutterstock

Materials and Textures

Furniture adhering to this style uses naturally occurring materials such as wood or cotton. Light-colored woods such as cypress (hinoki ) or cedar (sugi) are prevalent. Manufacturers upholster these pieces with natural or textured fabric. They often give them a plush appearance to evoke the sense of comfort associated with a stuffed animal or toy.

Mochi Means A Relaxing Life

Since its inception, the mochi aesthetic has grown from a quirky offset of kawaii culture into a legitimate contemporary art form. Fashion designers inspired by the mochi look produce clothing and accessories that have spawned new subcultures, like pastel goth. Not to mention graphic designers and animators also utilize the influence of this aesthetic to create more appealing characters.

Moreover, interior designers and social scientists have observed that children love mochi furniture. As a result, they use the design style to create relaxing spaces and combat anxiety and stress, especially in the workplace. With its playful lines, soft materials, gentle curves, and relaxing colors, the mochi design aesthetic will likely continue to evolve and subtly inspire us daily. Has the mochi aesthetic influenced your taste in home decor? Let us know in the comments below!

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