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, to such delights as mochi ice cream and even chocolate cow poop mochi.
Since mochi is a traditional New Year’s treat in Japan – you can even reserve your New Year’s kagami mochi at Baskin Robins – 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. The victims may not chew it enough, insist on eating the traditional snack despite not having all their teeth, or a multitude of other reasons.
▼ Don’t do it! You have your whole- well, some life ahead of you!
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.”
Of course Japanese netizens had a thing or two to say about all this:
“I can’t believe they still choked even with all the warnings out there. What an embarrassing way to go.”
“We should probably start requiring a license to eat mochi.”
“Mochi, you’re a bigger killer than konjac jelly!“
“Mochi: ‘Yes, just as I planned….'”
“People have been saying that it’s strange yukhoe (korean raw beef with egg) is banned but mochi is still legal, and yeah, now I understand why.”
“I bet at least 1% of these are murders, forcing the victims to eat it. Probably happens every year.”
“Wait a minute, so does this mean that, before modern warnings and everything, people dying from mochi-choking was just a regular thing? Mochi… I believed in you.”
“They should start selling small-cut, special ‘Won’t-Choke-You Mochi.’ It’d probably sell really well.”
While we wouldn’t dare dissuade anymore 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), we’d suggest that you take the Tokyo Fire Department’s advice and try not to swallow it whole. At least that way you won’t end up getting made fun of on a Japanese messageboard.
But hey, you don’t have to take our word for it. Just listen to Hatsune Miku’s words of advice:
Translation of the first two verses:
If little kids or old people eat konjac jelly
Then they will DIE
No matter the warnings on the package
Kids can’t read them and will DIE
Konjac jelly is dangerous so let’s ban it.
If little kids or old people choke on zōni mochi
Then they will DIE
No matter how old the tradition is
So many people die each year it’s basically a tradition itself
Zōni mochi is dangerous so let’s ban it.