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The Deadly Japanese Food That Kills At New Year's

[Image: Toshiyuki Imai | Creative Commons]
[Image: Toshiyuki Imai | Creative Commons]

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 it with soy sauce, butter and sugar.

Mochi isn’t a cake like a birthday cake, but rice that has been pounded into a paste. [Image: JoshBerglund19 | Creative Commons]
Mochi isn’t a cake like a birthday cake, but rice that has been pounded into a paste. [Image: JoshBerglund19 | Creative Commons]

Because mochi is so sticky, it can cause choking, which is why the Tokyo Fire Department issues warnings on an annual basis, advising people to cut their mochi into small pieces and chew slowly.

This year, Japan Today reports that unfortunately, one Tokyo man in his 80s died from choking on mochi. Ten others were taken to the hospital. Last year, the Tokyo Fire Department reported that 13 people, ages ranging from 55 to 90, were hospitalized this year from choking on the rice cakes. Sadly, two people died while eating mochi, up from one last year. According to Japan Today, a man in his 80s fatally choked on mochi, while another man in his 50s went into cardiac arrest. In 2015, nine people died from choking on the sticky rice paste.

Mochi is delicious and should be cut into small pieces. Small child probably should not eat mochi (though many do) and the elderly might be advised to sit this New Year’s tradition out.

This article was originally published on January 2, 2018. It has since been updated.

Originally from Texas, Ashcraft has called Osaka home since 2001. He has authored six books, including most recently, The Japanese Sake Bible.

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My wife and I sometimes get small packages of mochi (containing six miniature cakes each—they’re maybe an inch in diameter) from a nearby World Market. They’re definitely very chewy, to the point of being nearly like a paste when in a half-chewed state. Not hard to see how they might be a little dangerous to folks with weaker or compromised chewing/swallowing muscles (or fewer teeth).

Sad news about the folks who passed, definitely.