Mochi-traditional sweet or killer snack?

Good morning everyone,

It was chilly yesterday morning but warmed up during the day. Today and tomorrow will be pretty much the same, with highs around 12C and mostly sunny skies. It;s looking like we might see some rain on Tuesday and then it'll clear up from Wednesday and be a bit cooler from mid-week with highs of 9C.
Ah mochi, the delicious Japanese sweet. It can come in all different shapes and flavors, from the loveable daifuku with sweet bean paste filling, to hot zenzai soup with azuki beans and white mochi.

Since mochi is a traditional New Year’s treat in Japan – you can even reserve your New Year’s kagami mochi at Baskin Robbins (not "31") – more of it is consumed around this time of year than any other.

But all that mochi-eating has a dark side to it. With its incredibly sticky texture, mochi causes the most choking-related deaths of any food item in Japan. Last year it killed two people during the New Year season, and after just two days into 2015 it has already claimed nine lives and hospitalized 128 others.

Typically, mochi-related deaths and injuries occur in the elderly population. I'm guessing it's because the victims may not chew it enough or may insist on eating the traditional snack despite not having all their teeth.


This year, of the nine mochi-related deaths, three occurred in Tokyo, another three in Chiba, and one each in Osaka, Aomori and Nagasaki. The Tokyo Fire Department (which also handles the ambulance services) urges people to “cut their mochi into small pieces, and when a child or elderly person is eating it, to make sure that the people around them are paying attention.”

When I first came to Japan, I couldn't understand why loved ones would let their elderly relatives eat mochi at all. But when I thought about it, then I remembered how insistent my grandpa was about eating roast ham and turkey during the holidays (ham is for Easter, turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas in our house) despite not eating such heavy meals any other time of the year. He wanted to take part in the tradition along with the whole family(and also to probably reminisce about his youth a bit) and we couldn't stop him. I'm sure it's the same in Japan.

While I wouldn’t dare dissuade anyone from enjoying a delicious daifuku, or from celebrating the new year with some zōni mochi (soup with a mochi) or kinako mochi (brown mochi covered in powder), I’d suggest that you take the Tokyo Fire Department’s advice and try not to swallow it whole.

Have a great day and watch out for mochi-it's dangerous!

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