New Year treat turns fatal for 9

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

In Tokyo alone, 18 people were taken 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 had reached nine across the nation by Friday, and 13 others were in 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 to cut mochi into small pieces before serving it, especially to the elderly and children.