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Japan fire officials advise chewing slowly after New Year deaths from chocking on rice cakes

In this Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014 photo, a boy eats a freshly pounded rice cake, or "mochi," wrapped in a sheet of seasoned laver, or "nori," at a park during a rice pounding gathering, part of the annual preparation for the New Year's celebration at a park in Yokohama, near Tokyo. At least nine people have reportedly choked to death on New Year's rice cakes in Japan, and officials are urging people to chew slowly on the treats. (AP Photo/Tetsuya Saruta)

In this Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014 photo, a boy eats a freshly pounded rice cake, or "mochi," wrapped in a sheet of seasoned laver, or "nori," at a park during a rice pounding gathering, part of the annual preparation for the New Year's celebration at a park in Yokohama, near Tokyo. At least nine people have reportedly choked to death on New Year's rice cakes in Japan, and officials are urging people to chew slowly on the treats. (AP Photo/Tetsuya Saruta)  (The Associated Press)

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.