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Japan's annual sticky New Year's mochi rice cake tradition claims lives again

Every year, Japan’s national police and emergency response services issue public warnings to be careful when eating mochi rice cakes, the sticky, sweet traditional delicacy served to celebrate the new year. And every year people die anyway.

This year, according to Japan Today, at least two people have died and 12 more were hospitalized from eating mochi cakes, a glutinous speciality made from pounded steamed rice that Japanese eat specifically to mark the beginning of the new year.

Officials advise cutting the cakes into small pieces before chewing because of their density and stickiness, which is why their negative effects disproportionately affect the elderly. This year, Japan Today, citing the Tokyo Fire Department, reports “the two fatalities were a 60-year-old man from Kita Ward and an 81-year-old man from Itabashi Ward.”

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In this Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014 photo, a boy eats a freshly pounded rice cake, or “mochi,” wrapped in a sheet of seasoned laver, or “nori,” at a park during a rice pounding gathering, part of the annual preparation for the New Year’s celebration at a park in Yokohama, near Tokyo.  AP

The other injuries from the cakes were with people ranging in age from 28 to 90, the newspaper reported. All have since been discharged from the hospital.

Last year, a woman in her eighties died from choking on the cakes. In 2015, nine people were believed to have been killed taking part in the annual culinary tradition.

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