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Four elderly people have had traditional “mochi” rice cakes stick in their throats since Tuesday, causing the choking deaths of two of them, the Tokyo Fire Department said Saturday.

A 75-year-old man in Edogawa Ward died after being rushed to hospital Thursday with a variety of mochi called “dango” lodged in his throat, the department said.

On Friday, an 87-year-old woman in Suginami Ward suffocated after eating mochi, it said.

A department official cautioned against letting elderly people eat mochi alone.

“When elderly people eat mochi, family members should be there and take preventive measures such as having them eat mochi together with soup,” the official said.

Mochi is a yearend and New Year’s delicacy in Japan, and each year there are reports of elderly people dying after choking on the food.

The official said if someone has mochi stuck in their throat, the person should be told to sit down with their chin raised. The area between the person’s shoulder blades should then be struck four or five times with the palm of the hand, which should make the food easy to remove.

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