Three people have choked to death on New Year's rice cakes in Tokyo, with the toll reportedly climbing to at least nine nationwide.

Sticky rice cakes, or "mochi," are an essential part of the Japanese New Year's holiday menu.

But the glutinous mochi, grilled or cooked in broth or with sweet beans, can turn deadly, by getting stuck in people's throats and blocking breathing.

The Yomiuri newspaper reported last week that at least 128 people were rushed to the hospital after choking on mochi, and nine died.

The Tokyo Fire Department said Monday that 18 people were rushed to the hospital during the first three days of the year, and three males died.

It advises people to cut mochi in small pieces, chew slowly and learn first aid.