As the excitement of the New Year starts to wear off and many of us, weary with our unattainable resolutions, have abandoned them in a fit, this one Asian country yet again comes face to face with one of its most deadly months, as already nine Japanese people died choking on mochi rice cakes, five days into the new year. 13 people are reportedly in serious condition.
Let me preface by saying that if you don't know what mochi is, you are seriously missing out. These thick, glutinous traditional cakes made of pounded rice are eaten in large amounts over the New Year holiday in Japan, and are usually served in soup, or toasted with sweet soy sauce and wrapped in dried seaweed. They might not always be easy to chew, being so sticky and all, but what truly worth savoring is?
The downside of this sticky goodness is that it runs the risk of getting lodged in your throat, leading to suffocation. Every year in January, a handful of people in Japan die eating mochi, but this year has seen more casualties. According to The Guardian, there were at least four deaths last year, and two the year before.
Every year, Japan’s fire and police departments issue cautions in preparation for the large amount of mochi that will be consumed during the New Year. The Public Service Announcements, targeted particularly at the young and the elderly, remind people to divide mochi into very small pieces and to consume them in front of others.
The Tokyo Fire Department issued a caution this year advising people to cut mochi into smaller pieces, chew slowly and, of course, learn first aid. According to the Associated Press, a local paper reported on Friday that at least 128 people were dashed to hospitals after choking on mochi.
In anticipation for this year's fatalities, several confectionary companies came up with "safe-to-swallow" mochi cakes that were less sticky, hence less likely for people to choke on. The Guardian reported that Japan’s food safety commission had ranked the rice cakes among the top causes of food-related suffocating incidents. More than 80 percent of mochi-related fatalities involved the elderly.
According to the mochi trade association, the average Japanese person consumes about one kilogram of mochi every year (lucky ducks!), the majority of which is eaten during the first week of the New Year.
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