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Holiday Rice Cakes Prove Deadly

Six elderly Japanese died and 25 others were hospitalized in Tokyo after choking on gooey rice cakes over the New Year's holidays, an official said.

Three men, ages 87, 88 and 89, died Thursday after suffocating from the traditional New Year's fare. An 85-year-old man and a 92-year-old woman died Wednesday and an 86-year-old man died Sunday under similar circumstances, Tokyo Fire Department official Yuichi Yokomizo said.

Twelve others were in a coma, he said.

Every year, a handful of mostly elderly Japanese suffer after getting "mochi" rice cakes stuck in their throats. Mochi are usually served grilled and wrapped in dried seaweed, or in a broth.

Twenty Japanese, most of them elderly, were hospitalized during the holiday last year after getting mochi lodged in their throats, but none died. A mochi accident survey is taken annually from Dec. 26 through Jan. 3, when the rice cakes are most commonly eaten.

On Monday, the Tokyo Fire Department warned residents of the risks of eating the rice cakes, and urged them to take small bites, chew well and drink a lot of liquid with them.

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