Dozens more needed hospital treatment and around 13 were left in a serious condition after coming a cropper on mochi – glutinous cakes of pounded rice which are usually served in soup, or toasted and served with sweet soy sauce and wrapped in seaweed.

Mochi invariably claims several victims every January, but this year’s death toll is unusually high. The Yomiuri newspaper reported that at least 128 people were rushed to hospital after choking on the killer cake, with nine dying.

More than 80 per cent of mochi-related deaths occur among the elderly, who find it harder to swallow the sticky delicacies. The Tokyo Fire Department advises people to cut mochi into small pieces, chew slowly, and learn first aid. It even has a website offering tips on how to help someone choking on the rice cakes.

The Guardian reports that popular methods include a sharp slap on the back, the Heimlich manoeuvre, and sucking it out with a vacuum cleaner pipe. The newspaper also mentions an Osaka firm which claims to have developed an easy-to-swallow mochi containing an enzyme that makes it less sticky. And let’s face it – there’s not much point in having your cake if you can’t eat it…