Updated: November 16, 2018
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Japan's Deadliest Food

New Year is a killer season in Japan. The reason? Death by Mochi.

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Japan's Deadliest Food

Since 1873, the official Japanese New Year has been celebrated according to the Gregorian calendar. Even though they joined the Western world in its celebrations, Japan still has very traditional customs when it comes to this date.
Gatherings like the Bounenkai, literally translated as "year-end forgetting party", are a chance to let go of what's passed and get ready for a new beginning.
In another tradition, at midnight, Shinto temples are filled with people making wishes for the new year, buying new omamori (charms or amulets), and returning the old ones to the shrine so they can be burned.
Plain mochi
And then there's the mochi-eating tradition.
Mochi is prepared by pounding and mashing steamed rice until it turns into a thick, sticky paste. It is then rolled into little buns.
Consumed since the Heian period (794-1185), it was thought to bring your teeth and bones strength for the New Year.
The Kagami Mochi tradition stems from the Muromachi period of Japan (1336–1573) and is used to welcome the New Year. It is said that this particular mochi contains the “toshikami” - a new year’s spirit that will visit you to bring good luck into the new year. People place them in every room at their houses.
If you're in Japan you will probably see them being sold in supermarkets, convenience stores and food stalls everywhere.

Kagami mochi decoration.
Seemingly harmless, mochi has been claiming lives for years.
According to the Tokyo Fire Department, mochi sends more than 100 people to the hospital every year in Tokyo alone.
Just in 2018, 13 people were hospitalized and other 2 died from choking on the rice cake.
Mochi usually chooses old-aged victims. 90% of those rushed to the hospital from choking on their new year's dish are people aged 65 or older.
Children are also at risk. As the elderly, they can find it hard to chew and swallow the sticky cakes.
Each year, authorities issue public warnings advising that people should only eat mochi cut down to smaller chunks. It has become a national threat.

So if you want to enjoy this delicious but deadly tradition, be sure to cut down your mochi and chew, chew, chew! Akemashite Omedetou!

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