Often considered a symbol of longevity, mochi annually brings about sudden deaths
“Mochi” a traditional Japanese New Year’s food has made headlines again for claiming lives, two deaths reported in capital city Tokyo.
According to Tokyo Fire Department, two people have died in Tokyo and several are in a critical condition after choking on traditional rice cakes as part of the New Year celebrations.
During the New Year holidays, Japanese people traditionally eat mochi, which is typically translated as “rice cakes” and is incredibly dangerous for older folks.
In the West, people might know mochi ice cream, which uses thin pieces of mochi, but in Japan during the New Year’s holidays, people might put bigger (and stickier) pieces of mochi in soups or eat with soy sauce, butter and sugar.
The glutinous cakes, which are made by pounding rice, are extremely viscous. The cakes can become lodged in the throats of eaters whose saliva secretion may be compromised by old age.
Mochi is so stretchy that it can be hard to bite through, especially for senior citizens whose teeth aren’t in the best shape, to begin with.
People trying to swallow their mochi in bigger pieces than they would for other foods, and every year, a number of elderly Japanese choke on their New Year’s mocha.
At least 13 people were hospitalized this year from choking on the rice cakes, where two of them found dead, the victims were both men, an 84-year-old and a 76-year-old, Japan Today reported.
Suffocation deaths are caused by mochi every year in Japan, especially among elderly people. At the turn of 2014 to 2015, the number of casualties peaked at nine. In 2016 it was one, while last year two people died.
Every year the Govt issue public warnings in the run-up to the New Year festivities advising that people, especially the very young and elderly should only eat mochi cut down to smaller little chunks.
The fire department also implores fellow diners to be attentive to elderly relatives and acquaintances and to offer assistance and contact the paramedics if they are having difficulty swallowing.