Delicious, soft, chewy mochi, the rice cake that is central not only to the Japanese diet, but also to New Year’s celebrations in Japan.
But now, mochi is being dubbed Japan’s ‘silent killer’ due to the number of deaths it causes among the nation’s elderly due to choking. What’s more, the label originated with a 2011 Wall Street Journal article that highlighted the dangers of the food.
Netizens aren’t too shaken by mochi’s sinister side, pointing out that you can choke on pretty much anything if you’re elderly. But the Consumer Affairs Association and the Tokyo Fire Department are taking the risk very seriously, publishing advice on their websites on what to do if someone gets mochi stuck in their throat.
Has the panic mongering gone too far? Or is it time to give mochi a miss?
From Livedoor News:
Choking Deaths From Mochi At High Over Japanese New Year, Foreign Press Features Mochi As “Silent Killer”
At New Year 2016 there were also choking incidents in the elderly caused by mochi
In 2011 WSJ features Japanese mochi as “New Year’s Silent Killer”.
At the time, there were a lot of comments from surprised and bewildered foreign readers.
Mochi Known Abroad As ‘Silent Killer’: High Number Of Elderly Deaths In Japan Caused By Mochi
January is the time when you want to start over, as another new year begins. But January is the month when there are the most deaths caused by choking, and the majority of those deaths are elderly people. As they great the new year, the mochi they eat to celebrate is a major cause of this.
2016 was no exception. According to the Tokyo Fire Department, by 3pm on New Year’s Day the number of people who had been hospitalized in Tokyo due to getting mochi stuck in their throat stood at 8 people, aged between 75 and 92 years old. At just past 10 am on January 1, an 83 year old woman from Suginami ward started to choke when she ate the mochi in the traditional o-zoni soup at her home, and later died after being taken to hospital in a state of cardiopulmonary arrest.
◆90% Of Deaths From Choking On Food Are Elderly People
In a report by the Tokyo Fire Department, in the 5 years between 2007 and 2011, 604 people were rushed to hospital due to choking on foods such as mochi and dango, and of these 36% were concentrated in the month of January. Of those taken to hospital, 90% were elderly people over 65 years of age, and around half of these were deemed by doctors to be in a “critical” state where their lives were at risk.
A medical professional working at a hospital in Kanagawa Prefecture said: “For elderly people, who aren’t able to chew or swallow well, eating mochi is basically ‘suicide'”.
They went on: “I would like the elderly to take care when eating mochi at New Year. Because the elderly are less able to swallow, have less saliva, and use dentures, there are a series of incidents every year where elderly people either choke on mochi that they couldn’t bite through, or accidentally swallow dentures that have become embedded in the mochi.
When eating mochi with the family, please eat it in small bite-sized pieces. It is recommended to eat while having a conversation or moving the mouth to encourage saliva production, or to eat it after moistening the mouth with soup or tea.
If you do happen to get mochi stuck in your throat, then sucking it out with a vacuum cleaner can be effective as an emergency measure, but such incidents are a medical emergency, so please do not hesitate in calling an ambulance.
◆Japanese Mochi Introduced Abroad As “New Year’s Silent Killer”
According to the “Risk Evaluation On Food-Related Choking Incidents” by the Abe cabinet’s Food Safety Committee, mochi is one of the most dangerous foodstuffs. The frequency of choking incidents involving mochi is 30 times higher than that of konnyaku jelly, and five times that of candy. It is perhaps surprising that the risk of choking from mochi is much higher than that of konnyaku jelly, which was at the center of a controversy over choking incidents.
Around 5 years ago, a report in the January 4 2011 edition of the Wall Street Journal featured mochi, which is part of Japanese traditional culture. Directly translated, the article called mochi “New Year’s silent killer”, and prompted a reaction of surprise and bewilderment from many foreign readers.
The reason that we don’t harshly regulate mochi despite its being dangerous is probably because it is thought of as being part of good old Japanese culture. The fact that even if incidents occur at regional festivals they are simply accepted is probably also for the same reason.
Of course, understanding the dangers of mochi correctly would be the best kind of prevention. The Tokyo Fire Department have called for the issue to be dealt with in the following way: “Cut mochi into small pieces and chew well. If it gets stuck in someone’s throat, then after confirming whether they are conscious, if they react then tilt their chin downwards while supporting it, and hit them firmly on the back to get them to cough it up”.
The homepage of the Consumer Affairs Agency explains the “Back-Hitting Method” which can be applied regardless of age or gender as an emergency measure until the ambulance arrives. If the person who has the food stuck in their throat is standing up, then you hit them from behind, and if they have collapsed you hit them on their side, hitting between their shoulder blades firmly and rapidly with the heel of your palm.
Please take sufficient care when eating mochi so that none of us are saddened by unfortunate incidents within the family so early on in the new year, and so that everyone can enjoy a lovely holiday season.
Comments from 2ch.net:
I’ll get the vacuum cleaner ready then.
So it’s even worse than the old konyaku jelly, eh?
Oh mochi, how many lives have you taken since days of old?
It’s a lawful weapon for killing off the elderly.
I reckon it’s part of natural selection.
Frankly I don’t think this is just about jelly and mochi, there are a shitload of old people who die from getting things like rice and bread stuck in their throats too.
Mochi: “Hey America, wait for it — I’m making my debut there soon!”
Come on, don’t they have hamburgers in the US?
Guess they don’t choke you, they give you a heart attack. But still.
This should just be presented as a natural death.
All mochi does is balance things out by putting the breaks on ageing society.
Better than guns, I guess. (´・ω・`)
Comments from Twitter:
Silent killer, white devil…
Mochi really is dangerous. The Consumer Affairs Agency needs to apologise to konnyaku jelly.
Because it’s so close to us I guess we don’t really realise it, but mochi really is a dangerous food.
Wonder if they won’t turn this into a B-movie like Killer Condoms and Killer Sushi.
(￣ー￣) The silent killer. Too right.
So this means that mochi is more dangerous than Ospreys. All you who like regulating things, or who like going against things, stand up! w
Wow, mochi’s pretty cool, huh.
Those foreigners and their crazy misunderstandings again? No matter which food it is, if you don’t eat it properly, then it’s dangerous!
The gentle winter killer wwwwww