Miso soup from a package
“ Kaiseki” is a style of cooking that has been around for centuries. A typical kaiseki lunches consists of delicious and beautifully arranged food’such as clear broth appetizer, boiled or broiled fish and vegetables, fried, steamed, heated or vinegared foods, soup, rice, pickled vegetables, and fruit’served on small dishes. A typical Buddhist vegetarian meal includes things like persimmons seasoned with a tofu dressing vinegar-soaked vegetable wrapped in yuzu, and citrus.

Japanese curry is one of the most popular dishes in Japan. It is slightly sweet and thick and less spicy than Indian curry and less milk than Malaysian curry. There are even restaurants in Singapore that specialize in it. Curry was introduced to Japan in the 19th century and became popular in the 1950s when instant Curry mixes, cubes and bricks became fixtures of supermarket shelves. It is usually served with rice and made with beef or chicken. Potato, carrot and onion are common ingredients. There are stories that curry was introduced to Japan in 1853 century by Indian chefs on Matthew Perry’s black ships, and popularized when it was consumed by the Japanese army in the Meiji period (1868-1912) to make rice more tasty.

A lot of Japanese like to have rice and miso soup at every meal every day. When they travel abroad they often bring their own rice and miso soup packets with them from home.

Many Japanese foods owe their taste to a bacteria — Aspergillus Oryzae — used in making soy sauce, sake, miso and other foods.

Websites and Resources

Links in this Website: DIET AND EATING HABITS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;JAPANESE FOODS AND DISHES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; FOOD SAFETY IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; RICE AND NOODLES IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SOYBEANS, SOY SAUCE, NATTO, MISO AND TOFU IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE VEGETABLES, FRUITS AND MUSHROOMS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE BEEF, MEAT AND DAIRY PRODUCTS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SEAFOOD IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SUSHI Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; FUGU (BLOWFISH) IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; RESTAURANTS AND FAST FOOD IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan

Japanese Dishes: Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ; About.com on Japanese Food japanesefood.about.com ;Japan Guide japan-guide.com ; Umami Info umamiinfo.com ; Tokyo Food Pages bento.com ; Global Gourmet on Japanese Food globalgourmet.com ; Weird Foods in Japan Incredible Things incrediblethings.com ; Strange and Unusual Chewing Gums inventorspot.com ; From Japan and Beyong sfu.ca/~dashton/food/food ; Weird Food Videos food.3yen.com ; Strange Ice Cream who-sucks.com/food/101-frightening-ice-cream-flavors

Recipes Open Kitchen openkitchen.net ; Bob and Angie’s Recipes bob-an.com/recipe ; Tokyo Food Page bento.com ; Tsuji Academy Recipes tec-tsuji.com ; Japanese Mom’s Home Cooking nsknet.or.jp ; Japanese Cuisine Recipes gala.wccnet.org ; NTT Gourmet Page tec-tsuji.com ; Kids Web Japan web-japan.org/kidsweb ; Japanese Snacks and Sweets Japanese Snack Review Blog japanesesnackreviews.blogspot.com ; Asian Food Grocer asianfoodgrocer.com ; Asian Munchies asianmunchies.com

Favorite Japanese Dishes

Typical Japanese dishes “ sukiyaki” (thin sliced beef, tofu and vermicelli prepared in a special iron pan on the table and dipped in a small bowl of raw-beaten egg), “ shabu-shabu” (thinly slice beef cooked with vegetables in a special broth and served with sauce mixed with vinegar or sesame), yakiniku (sliced beef or pork you barbecue yourself at your table) and “ okonomiyaki” (meat-and-vegetable pancake, with generally with cabbage and shrimp, octopus, pork, or noodles, eaten with a brown sauce and mayonnaise).

“ Tempura” is seafood, vegetables or meat coated with a light batter made from egg and wheat flour, deep fried in vegetable oil, and served with soy sauce with grated radish and ginger. Tendon is a casual, inexpensive and filling version of tempura in which batter-fried fish and vegetables are served as a topping for rice.

Among some other Japanese dishes that are worth trying are “ kushiage “ (deep fried chicken, pork and vegetables skewered with a bamboo stick), “ yakitori” (which means skewered chicken, but also constitutes skewered pork, beef and vegetables dipped in a sweet soy-sauce-based barbecue sauce), “ tonkatsu “ (a deep-fried, bread-crumb-covered pork cutlet served with cabbage and a special brown sauce), and “ unagi “ (delicious delicately-flavored barbecued eel cooked on a charcoal fire and repeatedly dipped a special sticky, sweet barbecue sauce made with soy sauce and sake).


“Omuraisu, which means "omelet rice" in Japanese, is a popular home-style dish made by stuffing a large omelet with tomato-flavored chicken and vegetable fried rice,” Tamako Sakamoto wrote in the Daily Yomiuri. “This tasty yet filling comfort food is both easy to cook and a hit with children, making it popular with time-pressed parents. [Source: Tamako Sakamoto, Daily Yomiuri, September 7, 2012]

Her recipe for enough omuraisu (Rice omelet) to serves four uses the following ingredients: A) ½ onion; B) 3 bell peppers; C) 8 mushrooms; D) 300-gram chicken fillet; E) 4 strips bacon; F) 1-1/2 teaspoon salt; G) Pinch of pepper; H) 1 tablespoon vegetable oil; I) 4 bowls (600 grams each) cooked rice; I) 5 tablespoons ketchup; K) 8 eggs; L) Pinch of salt; M) 4 teaspoons vegetable oil.

  1. Chop the onion and bell peppers. Slice the mushrooms into 5-millimeter-thick pieces. Dice the chicken into 1-centimeter cubes and cut the bacon into 1-centimeter pieces. 2. In a large frying pan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Stir-fry the onion until semitransparent. Add the chicken, bacon, bell peppers and mushrooms, and cook for 3-4 minutes or until heated through. Season with salt and pepper.

  2. Remove from heat. Add rice and ketchup. Combine well with a wooden spatula. 4. In a bowl, break two eggs and add a pinch of salt. Mix well. Heat one teaspoon of vegetable oil in a frying pan over medium heat. 5. Pour the eggs into the frying pan. When the surface begins to firm, place 1/4 of the rice mixture on top. 6. Fold the eggs over the rice mixture and carefully slide the omelet onto a plate. Repeat for the next 3 omelets.

Sukiyaki-- Delicious but Expensive

Tamako Sakamoto wrote in The Daily Yomiuri: Sukiyaki is a delicious dish and I like it because I only have to cut vegetables to make dinner look wonderful. However, sukiyaki beef is expensive. For special occasions such as Christmas dinner or a New Year's party, why don't you try sukiyaki? It's simple and easy to prepare, but please don't ask your guests to bring special sukiyaki beef, except for people like your parents who would love to join you at any cost. [Source: Tamako Sakamoto, The Daily Yomiuri, December 14, 2012]

Sukiyaki ingredients for six people: 1) Warishita (sauce); 2) 300 ml sake; 3) 100 ml soy sauce; 4) 2 tablespoons sugar; 5) 2 packs of yakidofu (grilled tofu); 6) Variety of mushrooms such as shiitake, shimeji, enoki; 7) 300 grams (1 large pack) shirataki noodles; 8) 2 naganegi leeks; 9) 1/4 head hakusai (Chinese cabbage); 10) 1 bunch shungiku; 11) 1.2 kg sukiyaki beef; 12) Beef suet or 1 teaspoon vegetable oil 13) 6 eggs.

  1. To make the warishita sauce, combine sake, soy sauce and sugar and stir well. 2. Drain and cut tofu in half lengthwise and then into 1-cm-thick pieces. Cut off hard bottom part of mushrooms. Cut naganegi leeks into 5-cm pieces. 3. Parboil shirataki noodles for 3 minutes. Drain and cut into 10-cm pieces. 4. Cut hakusai in half lengthwise and then into 5-cm pieces. Cut off and discard hard stems from shungiku and cut into 5-cm pieces.

  2. Place a portable gas stove on the table. Set to medium heat and place a cast-iron pot on top. Coat the pot with beef suet or vegetable oil. 6. Add 2 to 3 slices of meat, naganegi leeks and shirataki noodles. Saute about 1 minute or so. Add half of the sauce and bring to a boil. Add some tofu and vegetables. Cover and cook for a few minutes over medium heat. 7. When cooked, your guests help themselves. Push the cooked items to one side of the pot and add more meat, tofu, shirataki and vegetables to the open space in the center of the pot. If necessary, add more sauce or adjust the taste of the sauce by adding more sake, soy sauce or sugar. * Although a lightly beaten raw egg is usually served in individual bowls as a dipping sauce, sukiyaki can be enjoyed without it.

Seasonal and Regional Dishes in Japan

In the spring Japanese eat dishes such as “ takenoko-gohan” (tangy sprouts of bamboo shoot), red snapper and giant clams. Popular summer foods includes “ hiyamugi” (chilled noodle dishes), “ hiya-yakko” (a tofu concoction), bonito (a fish with red fatty meat), and eel broiled in a tasty barbecue sauce.

In autumn people enjoy giant expensive matstake mushrooms, grilled “ sanma” (succulent fish, saury pike, with few bones), and “ saba” (mackerel). Popular winter dishes include oysters, sukiyaki, and “ konnyal” cooked in soy sauce broth and eaten with mustard). “ Fugu” is the blowfish with its poisonous liver removed.

A fixture of Japanese wintertime dinner is “nabe”, a sort of stew made with chicken, pork, seaweed, dried fish, seafood and/or vegetables boiled at the table in special earthenware pots on a cooker on the dinner table. and eaten with a sauce made from vinegar, horseradish, green onion and soy sauce. Chanko-nabe is a high-calorie nabe consumed by sumo wrestlers.

Another winter time favorite is “ oden”, slow-simmering soup with a strong, distinctive smell often sold at convenience stores. Made with a beef broth, it contains hard boiled eggs, slices of daikon, fish balls, root and sea vegetables, fish sausages, daikon and large pieces of tofu. Those who buy at convenience stores tell the cashier which items they want.

There are hundreds of others dishes and different regions often have their own specialties. Kyoto is known for its delicate seasoning, Tokyo for its robust cooking. Osaka is the one place that is especially famous for food. One popular Japanese food that Westerners generally don't like is natto, fermented soybean paste.

Spices in Japan

A variety of foods in Japan are marinated in various combinations of vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and sake. Ginger is commonly pickled or grated and then squeezed to extract the juice which is used to flavor meat and salads. Most spices used in Japanese cooking were introduced from China and Korea.

Wasabi is a spice unique to Japan. Sometimes called Japanese horseradish or green mustard, it is a spicy hot, pungent paste that comes from the trunk-like upper root of the wasabi plant and is often what gives some zing to sashimi, sushi, soba noodles and other foods. It can also be used as a disinfectant, preservative and antipoison and can be used to sterilize raw fish and get ride of fish odors in the air.

Wasabi is grated and often served with sushi or sashimi. A member of the mustard family like horseradish, it is grown in paddies in which was the water is moving and is between 10 and 15 degrees C. Because of these requirements, wasabi is best grown in areas with cold mountain streams. These days Japanese wasabi producers are suffering as result of cheap imports from China and Taiwan.

Wasabi is hard to grow commercially. It takes about 18 months to mature and is produced mostly in Shizuoka Prefecture. It comes from a wild plant that is found along clear mountain streams on all four of Japan's major islands. Historical documents from the 10th century list wasabi as a gift given to the Emperor.

MSG in Japan

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a common ingredient in Chinese food and to a lesser extent Japanese food. . First widely used in the 1950s, it is a flavor enhancer and preservative. The glutamate flavor was discovered in Japan in 1908 by Professor Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo University. The Japanese company Ajinomoto made it into a crystalline powder form (MSG) and patented the idea in 1908. The key to using MSG is using the right amount, One chef told the New York Times, “Too much MSG and you get that harsh acrid taste. But get it just right and that dish will sing.”

Americans became suspicions about MSG after a Chinese-American physician wrote what he meant to be a lighthearted letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, saying he experienced numbness, palpations and weakness after eating in Chinese restaurants and wondered if MSG was the cause. After that MSG was labeled as a toxin and removed from a long list of foods, including baby food, and made a lot of Americans wary and suspicious every time they entered a Chinese restaurant.

A number of studied have debunked the “Chinese restaurant syndrome,” showing that consuming MSG in normal amounts has no effect on the vast majority of people. Still suspicions about the flavor enhancer remain and but generally it is only unhealthy — but also doesn’t taste very good — if it is consumed in large amounts.

In 1995, the FDA cleared glutamate of all serious charges leveled against it. A review of research by the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States came to the same conclusion. Even so some food experts assert that MSG is harmful to one’s health, blaming it for a range of serious neurological and physiological aliments, and insisting it has no effect on the flavor of food. Some studies have identified MSG as a possible ecitotoxin which overstimulates neurotransmitters to the point of cell damage.


Kyoto-style pickles
“Umami” is a “fifth taste” recognized in Japan but doesn’t have a direct English translation. It has unofficially been recognized for centuries but wasn’t officially identified as a unique taste until it was recognized as such by the Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University in 1908. In 1985 the term became officially internationality recognized at a taste common to tomatoes, cheese and pork that does not fit into the well-known categories of foods: sweet, sour, bitter and salty.

Imparted by glumate and robonucleotides, unami is a subtle, savory taste that occurs naturally in many common foods used widely around the world including fish, vegetables and dairy products. But often it is most detectable in ingredients used specifically in Japanese cooking. Cooks in Britain that create the umami taste experience do so with typical Japanese ingredients like “kombu” (kelp), “katsuobushi “ (dried bonito flakes), “niboshi” (small dried sardines), soy sauce and shiitake mushrooms. Umami finds it ways into bags of Japanese potato chips as “kombu essence.” It has been identified in Western foods such tomatoes, meat stocks and cheese.

Heston Blumenthal, proprietor of the three-Michelin star restaurant Fat Duck in southeast England, creates umami-rich seafood dishes enhanced with kombu and katsuobushi. He told Kyodo news service, “The unique quality of roasted kombu is quite interesting. It seems to give real depth to certain dished and a “balance would not be able to be struck without its presence.” Blumenthal told the Times of London , “It really works. Seaweed flavor makes a meat pie really meaty. It brings out the best flavor. Seaweed has a difficult image with the public, but it is an imaginative ingredient which gives an exciting burst of flavor.”Another food expert said, “It’s like having another color to paint with.”

Umami is sometimes described as “meaty” or “savory” Michelin-star-rated chef Jeff Ramsey told the Daily Yomiuri, “In Western cuisine, you can have some very rich and salty foods. Generally if there’s meat and there’s a reduced sauce, then there’s going to be a lot of umami. But in Japanese cooking, you try not to use the fat at all, so you really need to use a lot of umami to catch the fats, to make the food tasty.”

Blumenthal is one the main proponents of the wonders of umami. He has even teamed up with the University of Reading to introduce the use of Japanese kombu seaweed to add flavor to sauces and meat dishes in hospital food. He told the Times of London , “ We need to enliven meal times in hospitals and for old people to get excited again about their food.”

Japanese Snacks

takoyaki restaurant
Outdoor and indoor “ yakitori” bars serve grilled chicken, beef and vegetables served on a stick and other hot, snack foods. “ Takoyaki” (gooey dumplings made with octopus legs is a snack associated with the Osaka area. The golf-ball-sized, gooey, balls are made on special pitted grittles in stands along the sidewalks. They are extremely hot with fish flakes and a sweet brown sauce. The octopus is chewy, the outside is soft and the inside is gooey. Autumn treat include a variety of pastries made of chestnuts and sweet potatoes.

Common snacks found on the streets and in convenience stores include various rice balls, cheap bento boxes, snacks, sweets, sandwiches, shrimp-flavored chips, sweet potato balls, fried lotus root stuffed with hot mustard, pea-flavored puffs, shredded dried squid. In Japan you can get seafood snacks that have a picture of an octopus with a blue banana. Fritolay products feature Chester Cheetah instead of the Frito Bandito.

Adzuki bean paste in a component of many Japanese deserts, sweets and sweet snacks, Bean-paste-filled buns known as “anpan” are found in almost every bakery in Japan. Bean paste often fills pastries rather than creams and chocolate. Many foreigners are not so fond of it and are surprised when they bite into a roll and fine bean paste inside.

Japanese eat chrysanthemums and deep-fried maple leaves. In, Shizuoka Prefecture cherry leaves are pickled and used to rap sweets like rice cakes with bean inside. The pickled leaves are valued for their sweet smell. The town of Matzuzakischo produces 2 million leaves a year, 70 percent of Japan’s total.

Japanese Desserts

sweet breast pudding
Japanese sweets and deserts tend to be less sweet than their Western counterparts. Many Japanese don't like overly sweet stuff and worried that eating to much sugar will give them diabetes or cause other health problems. Moreover, Japanese tend to eat sweets between meals with tea and not necessarily as a dessert. Desert is often fruit.

Japanese-style restaurants generally don’t offer desserts, although Western-style restaurants do. Most Japanese buy goodies at plentiful bakeries or sweet shops and take them home. The deserts sold at bakeries are good but sometimes expensive. Common desserts sold ta bakeries include cream puffs (“ su cream”), cheesecake (similar to sponge cake), chocolate pastries, strawberry cakes and a variety of cakes and pastries.

Japanese sweet shops sell a variety of concoctions that Westerners are unfamiliar with. Desserts served at coffee shops include things like shaved ice with apricot sauce or shaved ice with green and sweet red been topping.

A lot of deserts are made with sweet bean paste, jello-like jellies and “ agar” (seaweed-based gelatin that has a slightly fishy taste). Sweet bean paste is served as toping on ice cream and found in side a wide variety of sweet buns and popsicles. Sweet potatoes are regarded as a sweet. They are roasted in large ovens on the back of trucks that roam neighborhoods and produce an whining, droning noise. Kid are fond of eating frozen fruit jellies.

“ Kamaboke “ is a traditional sweet that has been around for almost 1,000 years. Described in an ancient document as being in a court meal served in 1115, it is made with steamed white fish mashed into a paste, seasoned and colored. In the Tokyo area traditionally blue fish has been used. In the Osaka-Kyoto area lizardfish is favored. These days kamaboke is usually made of frozen fish imported from abroad.

Ice Cream and Cold Desserts in Japan

wasabi popsicle
During the summer, Japanese enjoy green-tea flavored ice cream, and shaved ice flavored with sweet fruit syrups and sweet adzuki beans. Shaved ice desserts have a long history in Japan. Lady Sei Shonagaon listed it as one fo her “Elegant Things” in the 10th century Pillow Book.

World largest consumers of ice cream (pints per capita in 1997): 1) the United States (42.9); 2) Australia (39); 3) Sweden (33.3); 4) Canada (19.3); 5) Italy (19.1); 6) Netherlands (18.6); 7) Israel (17.9); 8) Britain (17.2); 9) France (14.5); 10) Germany (12.4); 11) Japan (10.5); 12) South Korea (9.6); 13) Taiwan (7,7); 14) Argentina (7.6); 15) Poland (4.7); 16) South Africa (4.6); 17) Russia (4.5); 18) Mexico (2.9); 19) Brazil (2.4). [Source: Euromonitor]

A confectionary shop in Ishinomaki does a good business selling ice creams made from saury (a slender beak-nosed fish), sea slugs, whale meat, soft-shelled turtles and cedar chips. Other exotic ice creams include pickled orchid ice cream from Toyama, chicken wing and shrimp ice creams from Nagoya, and eel-flavored and clam-flavored ice cream from Shizuoka prefecture. Funagata, a small town in northern Japan, is experimenting with making ice cream from poisonous pit vipers and fireflies.

A pork restaurant in Kyoto makes ice cream local chili peppers, soybeans and buckwheat cookies. An aquarium in Yamagata Prefecture sells ice cream containing diced jellyfish. Products made with beer-flavored ice cream have been released in a number of places. One concoction uses mild Gyoza Roman beer and is 15 percent beer and 1 percent alcohol. A specialty of Hokkaido is sea urchin ice cream. Other ice creams be been made with garlic and bits of beef tongue.

Green Tea Jelly with Sweet Bean Jam, Shiratama, Ice Cream

The following is a recipe by Tamako Sakamoto for green tea jelly with sweet bean jam, shiratama, ice cream. First get these ingredients: A) 5 grams gelatin powder; B) 1 tablespoon powdered green tea (matcha); C) 3 tablespoons sugar; D) 300 ml water; E) 100 grams shiratama flour; F) 80-100 ml water; G) 1 can sweet bean jam; H) 4 scoops green tea or vanilla ice cream [Source: Tamako Sakamoto, Daily Yomiuri, August 10, 2012]

Then: 1) Soak gelatin in one tablespoon of water. Sift green tea. In a saucepan, bring water to a boil and add sugar. Stir well. Add green tea and stir well. Add soaked gelatin and stir well. Let it cool, stirring occasionally. When it becomes cool, pour it into a flat-bottomed container, such as bento box. Chill in refrigerator until firm. 2) Put shiratama flour in a bowl. Add water little by little, mixing well. Roll one teaspoonful of shiratama dough between both hands to make a ball. Hold the ball with thumb and index finger and slightly press it in the middle. Repeat.

3) In a pot, bring water to a boil and add the shiratama balls one by one. When they rise to the surface, scoop them up with a ladle. Drain and put in a bowl of ice water. Repeat the process and drain. 4) Remove the jelly and cut into bite-sized pieces. Place jelly in a serving bowl and top with sweet bean jam, shiratama and ice cream.

Chocolate and Chewing Gum in Japan

Valentine Day chocolate
The Japanese are the world's second largest consumers of chewing gum behind Americans. In Japan, you can buy caffeine-enriched, coffee-flavored gum that promises to wake you up.

The first real chocolate in Japan was Morianga “Milk Chocolate” introduced in 1891. In 1926, Meiji Seika “Milk Chocolate” was made with equipment imported from Germany. Pocky, a chocolate-covered version of the “Prtez” sticks was first put on the market on 1966 and over the years has been consistently popular. In the late 1960s children bought Morinaga “Chocolate Balls” to get a box of toys earned by collecting lucky tickets in box flaps with the “angel mark.”

On average, Japanese eat 1.88 kilograms of chocolate per person. In contract Germans eat about 3.5 kilos; Britons, 3.2 kilos; the French 3 kilos; and Americans, 2.5 kilos. Studies have shown that up to 90 percent of chocolate purchases made at convenience stores are made by women. To get more salarymen to buy more chocolate, “refreshment boxes” filled with chocolate have been put in offices. Buyers pay using the honor system. The Japanese are as innovative and quality conscious when it comes to chocolate as they are with everything else. It possible to buy chocolate eggs with realistic-looking bull terriers and ayu fish inside.


dressing up as a
Japanese snack
Konnyaku is a circular root, also known as devil’s tongue, that is dried and pulverized into a power and made into noodles, bread with an unusually moist texture, and other products. It is also used as additive in a wide range of foods. One of the most popular konnyaku products is konnyaku jelly. First introduced in the early 1990s, it is widely used in meat buns to give the buns a springy texture and keep the meat juice from leaking out

Konnyaku was consumed in Heian period (794-1192) and described in poetry by the great Japanese poet Basho. It contains large amount of ceramide, which can retain and block moisture. This quality makes it an attractive additive for food and cosmetics. In the West ceramide was extracted from cattle brains until the outbreaks of mad cow disease brought an end to the practice.

Konnyaku roots used in foods is cut into thin slices and carried on a conveyor belt and air-treated in 140 degrees C for temperatures about two hours a computer-controlled drier three times as a tall as an adult. The slices are then smashed and purified to produce powder, which is the kneaded with water and boiled with an alkaline solution . Most konnyaku is produced in Gunma Prefecture.

Deaths from Eating Konnyaku

A number of children and elderly people have died from choking on jelly products containing konnyaku. The problems was so severe that the government required products with the jelly to have large, prominet warning labels and encourages manufacturers to make their products with small, easy-to-swallow pieces. Konnyaku jelly is firmer and more elastic than ordinary jelly and is extremely difficult to remove if its gets stuck. When it is frozen it get firmer and even more dangerous. In 1995 and 1996 there were eight deaths involving small children and the elderly consuming konnyaku.

In September 2008, a 21-month-old boy died from chocking on a jelly product containing konnyaku. It was the 17th reported choking death related to konnyaku jelly since 1995. Warning that young people and the elderly should not consume products made with the jelly were reiterated. The boy was given a mango-flavored frozen jelly product made with konnyaki in July. The jelly got stuck in his throat, cutting of his air flow. The boy was brought the hospital and died.

At first companies that made konnyaku jelly increased safety measures and put larger warnings on the their products. Then many just decided it was too risky to make the stuff and stopped making konnyaku jelly products altogether.


“Mochi” is a soft, chewy blob-shaped rice cake which can be eaten raw, boiled, toasted or grilled or placed in a soup. Along with sake, it is one of the most popular offerings to the Gods. It also a popular New Year food.

Mochi has been around for at least 1000 years. In the old days, the rice for mochi was pounded by men using sledgehammer-size wooden mallets and the pounded rice was steamed for 40 minutes into a smooth paste and then shaped by women into mochi.

Today, mochi is made primarily made at rice stores and confectionery shops or in big factories with special rice-kneading machines. Families sometimes put some mochi on small stool-like alters, which are taken to the local Shinto shrine and placed on shelves with tags that identify the families who offered them.

Rice has religious significance in Japan and mochi is considered a symbol of happiness. It is also eaten at festivals, weddings, the building of a new house and other occasions. The New Year's shrine at the entrance to the house usually contains two large circular slabs of mochi that are stacked one on top of the other with an orange, some straw and other decorations on top of that.

Deaths from Eating Mochi

fresh mochi
Mochi is extremely chewy and sticky. Each year several people die from choking to death on it when it gets struck in their throat. Most of the victims are older people. The problem is so serious that fire departments are put on alert for mochi emergencies and newspapers report the death toll from mochi-eating, much as American newspaper list holiday traffic deaths. In 1995, 11 people choked to death from eating mochi nationwide and ambulances responded to 28 mochi emergencies in Tokyo alone. [Source: Washington Post]

The Tokyo fire department advises elderly people in particular to cut the mochi into small pieces, "wet the throat, chew it fully and then swallow" and recommend that the mochi be eaten in the presence of others. Using a vacuum cleaner is the best way to get mochi un stuck in someone’s throat. In a famous scene from the Japanese movie “Tampopo”, an old man choking on mochi is first turned upside down and when that doesn’t a vacuum cleaner nozzle is jammed down his throat and the mochi is sucked out.

In the 2006-2007 New Years season four men ranging in age from 68 to 89 died from choking on mochi cakes. In 2008, two people — a 53-year-old man and a 89-year-old man — died from choking on mochi in Tokyo and 13 others were hospitalized for choking on mochi.

There were six mochi deaths in the Tokyo during the 2010 New year weekend. Twenty-four people were hospitalized after choking on mochi. The six that died were between 75 and 95. One of them, a 66-year-old woman, died after being given complimentary pieces of mochi at a pachinko parlor.

In Kyoto and other places there are mochi weightlifting competition in which men lift and hold a 150-kilogram hunk of mochi and women do the same with a 90-kilogram hunk. In 2009, a 49-year-old nurse held the the mochi hunk for eight minutes and 36 seconds, a new record in the women’s event.

Lakimochi is a specialty of the Horuriku region. It is made by frying or baking rice cakes after they have dried for about two months, They come in variety of colors including yellow jasmine-flavored ones and pink ones containing salmon and laver.

Image Sources: Ray Kinnane, xorsyst blogger, Japan Zone

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2013

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