Every year, a few Japanese people die over New Year celebrations by choking on mochi they swallowed whole. (For real. Here's a news report about 7 mochi choking deaths over January 1st to January 3rd last year.)


For those of you not in the know, mochi are chewy rice cakes made from special high-gluten rice that are eaten (often in a soup) as a New Year's tradition in Japan. They were made in olden times--and still now in inaka--by putting a bunch of rice in a big bowl and smashing it with a giant hammer. Now they're often bought in the store or made at home using fancy electronic gadgets. If you live here, they're available year round in the wagashi section of your grocery store and have enormously long shelf lives that don't even require refrigeration, but in my opinion, making them with the hammer is more fun than eating them.

Anyway, the manly way to eat mochi is to swallow it whole with your soup instead of taking little bites like a child or a foreigner. Hence the choking deaths. Mostly among old people.

But for you old-Japan-hands yawning about now, here's your treat:

In a paper published in 2000 by the Abashiri Regional Fire Department in Hokkaido, the option of treating mochi choking incidents with household vacuum cleaners as an alternative to the Heimlich maneuver was explored, a suggestion that received widespread acceptance in Japan among both the general populace and medical professionals. It became popular enough, in fact, that a certain Tokyo-based medical supply manufacturer decided to bank on the research by marketing a special nozzle you can attach to your vacuum for just such an occasion.

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