In and around New Year's holidays the Japanese public traditionally make their way through vast quantities of Mochi—sticky and sweet cakes of pounded rice, eaten usually in soup, or toasted and served with sweet soy sauce and wrapped in dried seaweed. Unfortunately, this yearly customary celebration is all too often marred with tragedy—glutinous patties have been known to take the lives of people (often elderly) who choke on the sticky substance. This year has seen a particularly high casualty rate with 9 people reported to have died and a further 13 left in a critical condition.
Whilst in recent years Mochi manufacturers have adjusted their recipes to reduce casualties—the addition of an enzyme making the cakes less sticky, whilst maintaining the starchy flavour—Japanese industrialist have (somewhat predictably) also been taking on the challenge with interesting results. Tokyo-based medical equipment manufacturer Shin-Ei Industries is marketing a simple accessory for household vacuum cleaners with the premise that any rice cake incidents can be averted by sucking the offending mush from the victims throat.
Foreigners (or gaijin) visiting Japan will be all too aware of the dangers to airways and esophagus of local cuisine—the majority encountering at least a couple of scares along the way to mastering the local slurping technique. The idea of using vacuum cleaners to save the elderly from food-induced suffocation is also apparently not an entirely new one either—the Japanese film Tampopo featuring the technique being employed in traditional noodle restaurant (all be it without the throat saving nozzle).
Sam Dunne is a designer, strategist and writer based in London. Sam is founder of design strategy agency Cohere and Contributing Editor at Core77—reporting broadly on design, technology, food and object culture.