Nearly a dozen Tokyoites rushed to hospital before dinnertime on New Year’s Day.

Along with watching the first sunrise and going out to buy lucky bags, eating mochi rice cakes, especially the super-stretchy kind called ozoni, is a New Year’s tradition in Japan. The custom came about because the way ozoni stretches to amazing lengths is thought to be a metaphor for long life, and so what could be a more auspicious meal to ensure a healthy and happy year to come?

▼ This ozoni is filled with sweet beans, but most varieties are solid mochi.

Folk wisdom doesn’t always have the strongest factual foundation, however. While mochi is indeed a relatively healthy food, ozoni has the terrifying capability to bring your life to an abrupt end. Because ozoni’s texture is so soft, and also because it’s usually served in a hot broth, people often try to slurp or swallow it in large pieces, which can then get lodged in the windpipe and lead to choking and suffocation. Ozoni is an especially risky dish for seniors and small children, who may lack the healthy teeth or strong jaw muscles to thoroughly chew their ozoni.

In what’s become a sad but inevitable part of New Year’s in Japan, the Tokyo Fire Department has reported that by 4 p.m. on January 1, 10 Tokyoites had been taken to the hospital after choking on their New Year’s mochi. The victims ranged in age from 27 to 98, with seven who were 60 or older.

Tragically, while medical staff were able to save nine of the victims, an 80-something man from west Tokyo’s Akishima City, who began choking on his breakfast ozoni shortly after 10 a.m., died after reaching the hospital.

The Tokyo Fire Department urges those who insist on eating ozoni to cut it into small pieces, and to chew well before attempting to swallow. Those dining with elderly or young relatives are encouraged to remind them of the danger and the need to be careful, in an attempt to combat youthful inattentiveness of advanced-age stubbornness.

Source: NHK News Web via Otakomu
Top image: Wikipedia/本物を求めるグルメ職人