9 choke to death on Japanese New Year delicacies

Steamed rice is pounded into a mochi, rice cake to celebrate the New Year at the Kanda shrine in Tokyo on January 1, 2015.

TOKYO - Nine people have choked to death in Japan after eating traditional glutinous "mochi" rice cakes to celebrate the New Year, an official and local media said Sunday.

In Tokyo alone, 18 people were sent to hospital due to suffocation after eating the New Year delicacy, and three of them died, a fire department official said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said the death toll from rice cake accidents reached nine by Friday across the nation and 13 others were in a serious condition.

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.

The fire department is advising people, especially the elderly and infants, to cut mochi into small pieces before eating it.

Every year, several Japanese die after choking on rice cakes.