I mentioned the mochi men. Here they are making fresh mochi.
A large batch of sticky rice has been boiled on an outdoor fire (off to the rear left of these pictures). The cooks bring the hot rice over and dump it into this pot, where the guys with the sticks push it together until it becomes a big glutenous lump. Then they bring out the mallets. Noisy process... each man in the circle takes a hit with his mallet and lets out his own personal exclamation as his mallet hits the ball of rubbery rice. That goes on for at least 10 minutes. It's ceremonial, a good workout, and obviously fun. I understand that mochi making is in preparation for the New Year's celebration.
In the first picture on the bottom row, there is a man on the left wearing a surgical-type mask. He is apparently the mochi master. He decides when the mochi is ready for the big mallet and he's the one who wields it. For some reason we didn't get a picture of him using the big mallet, but it took a lot of muscle to heft that one. One trusting assistant quickly turns the mochi between hits with the big mallet. I'm not sure I'd want that job... timing is critical. The master decides when the mochi is ready to eat.
Mochi, like green tea shows up in a lot of forms in Japanese cuisine. My favorite was some barbequed mochi on a skewer from a street vendor in Kyoto. Unfortunately I made the mistake of going into a shop to look at some gift items and when I came out Dave had already eaten the rest of the skewer full.
In case you wonder, the face mask is not a food prep thing. One of the first things you notice when you get off the plane in Japan in the winter is the number of people around you wearing masks... children, students, businessmen. It's cold season and if they are feeling sick, they don't want to spread their colds. They take this pretty seriously. We were also warned that it is not considered polite to blow your nose in public.
The morning we left Shinagawa (near Tokyo) for Nagoya, I was waiting in the train station at the bottom of the stairs with all our luggage while Dave went up the stairs to the Starbucks to get us some hot tea. With nothing better to do, I decided to count how often I saw someone wearing a face mask. It was about 1 in every 25 people.