Try this at home if anyone chokes on a Japanese rice cake: use a vacuum cleaner
Japan’s emergency services have issued a warning against people biting off more than they can chew when consuming traditional “mochi” rice cakes over the New Year festivities.
Every January, the annual mochi death toll is a top story on Japanese news programmes as dozens of people are admitted to hospitals across the country after choking on the glutinous delicacy.
The National Police Agency and the Fire and Disaster Management Agency have this year added a page to their web sites calling on people to be careful when they indulge in mochi - and warning that the elderly are most at risk.
The sites advise people to cut their mochi into smaller portions and to chew it thoroughly before attempting to swallow it. It also recommends that people refrain from enjoying mochi by themselves so that assistance is on hand should a morsel gets stuck.
The site also provides illustrated advice on what to do should someone start to choke, with a vigorous slap on the back whilst supporting the chin is the suggested remedy.
Another piece of advice is for households to have a vacuum cleaner close at hand when anyone is eating mochi and, at the first hint that a reveller is choking, to force the nozzle of the vacuum into his or her mouth to suck the offending mochi out.
During the New Year period, one of Japan’s biggest holidays, families traditionally cook “ozouni” soup and put the sticky rice cakes in the vegetable broth.
According to the Tokyo Fire Department, 562 people in the capital alone were admitted to hospitals between 2011 and 2015 after choking on food. Of that total, 208 were listed as being in serious condition, including being unconscious, while 45 people died.
An estimated 90 per cent of the hospital admissions were aged 65 or older.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse