Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community

Usu Intrigue

Calling all community members! In the spirit of Mochi Tsuki, help solve the problem of how to fix a broken usu and maybe even mend a family feud.

Recently, BIJAC received an inquiry from Port Orchard resident, Tanya Gregoire. Her story involved her heritage, a family feud, and a not-so-ordinary heirloom–an 1800’s usu.

As Mochi Tsuki participants may know, the usu is the large stone bowl that is used to hold the steamed mochi rice, while participants swing a kine, or mallet, to pound the sweet mochi rice until it achieves a smooth, sticky texture. An authentic stone usu is hard to come by in the United States.

Ms. Gregoire’s family originated in Japan and emigrated to the Islands of Hawaii. In the mid-1800’s her great great grandmother’s village in Japan purchased an usu bowl made from a single stone. She was told the villagers saved their money to purchase the usu, and when it finally arrived it was honored with a ceremony of drums as it was put in place. As she tells the story, her great great grandmother was the last to leave her village and, as a result, acquired the treasured usu.

When Ms. Gregoire’s grandfather married her grandmother, he had the usu, as it had been handed down to him by his mother.

“I am telling you this story for a reason,” explained Ms. Gregoire. “My Grandpa had a feud with my Grandma, and Grandma filled the usu with cement–something my Grandpa was mad about and even spoke of during his last words.”

Today Ms. Gregoire’s mom has the usu. “My mom and aunties regret  not fixing it for my grandpa.” “I am desperate and really want to fix the usu for my auntie,” she explains.

Over the years, repairs have been attempted using a dremel. Much of the cement has been removed from the interior of the bowl, but Ms. Gregoire would love to see if fully restored. Both the interior and exterior have suffered damage, but the hope is that they can be repaired.

So, BIJAC Community, the challenge is before us. Help Tanya Gregoire fix her family heirloom, and we might also heal the wounds inflicted by a feud between grandma and grandpa so many years ago. Have ideas? Please email them to:

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