Cruel humor alert… Mochi is actually considered a symbol of longevity. The new year brings an array of customary dishes, otherwise known as osechi.
These dishes are particularly special, since in Japan each plate bears a cultural or linguistic significance. But osechi has a dark twist in the form of our favorite rice cakes, mochi.
Outside of Japan, the mochi you consume is actually mochi daifuku, a bite-sized dessert that’s just a thin mochi covering with some sort of sweet filling. But when mochi is eaten as a solid block, like it is for osechu, its texture is incredibly stretchy. Stretchier than taffy. Stretcher than that gum you stepped on this morning. Stretcher than is probably safe to consume.
The Japanese word for “stretch,” nobiru, can also mean “extend” or “continue”, so eating osechi on New Year’s is said to extend your longevity, giving you a long and happy life. Sadly, mochi is the only osechi dish that consistently racks up a body count.
The treat is so stretchy that it can be hard to bite through (especially for senior citizens whose teeth aren’t in the best shape to begin with). That leads to people trying to swallow their mochi in bigger pieces than they would for other foods, and every year, a number of elderly Japanese choke on their New Year’s mochi. Two days into the new year, the Tokyo Fire Department reported that by 9 p.m., 15 Tokyo residents were taken to the hospital for emergency medical treatment as they gagged on mochi. Two men perished when the mochi could not be dislodged in time.
In Japan, the New Year’s festivities traditionally continue through today, which means that there are likely more mochi fatalities to be had. The fire department encourages seniors to cut their mochi into small pieces, chew thoroughly, and swallow carefully.
*or just skip it altogether…*