We are now in Obon season, the period of the year when families ask for their ancestors' souls to come back to the households. This is uchiwamochi うちわ餅, a pound rice ball wrapped in a shiso leaf, topped with a sweet red beans paste, and decorated on a lotus leaf. Those mochi are traditionally served during Obon Festival in Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture (Northern Japan), as an offering to the ancestors' souls to attract them back home. Most families bring the uchiwamochi to their ancestors' grave with water and flowers, and when the night comes, they light up a fire in front of the graveyard's gate. Attracted by the delicious smell and look of the offerings, the ancestors quickly come back to Earth riding horses. Around the 25th of August, ancestors ride a cow to slowly go back to the world of the Dead.
This is why in this period of the year, you will see horse-shaped cucumbers and cow-shaped eggplants everywhere in Japan. "Ride this horse to come quickly, and ride this cow to go back slowly"
Of course, you can eat the uchiwamochi. The shiso leaf has a strong minty taste that may surprise you. But don't worry, the sweetness of the red bean paste is going to soothe it all up to create a pleasant flavor combination in your mouth. As you can see from the pictures, there is no meat in the offerings. This is because Obon is from Buddhist traditions (in original Buddhism consumption of meat is prohibited). People in Tsuruoka traditionally use lotus leaves because it's the leaf where Buddha is sitting in most representations.
You can buy shiso-wrapped mochi in any mochi shop or supermarket of the city, until the end of August. If you wish to buy a lotus leaf for decoration, they are also available for sale in supermarkets.