Two people died and seven others were listed in serious condition in the Tokyo area after choking on “mochi” rice cakes traditionally served in “zoni” soup on New Year’s Day.

According to the Tokyo Fire Department, 15 people were taken to hospitals on Jan. 1 after encountering problems swallowing the glutinous pieces of pounded rice.

Some were in a state of cardiac arrest and others were unconscious.

Seven of those hospitalized were in their 80s, four were in their 70s, two were in their 90s, and two others were in their 50s.

Incidents of choking on rice cakes are generally concentrated in January. Over the past five years, about 90 percent of those taken by ambulance to hospitals were 65 or older.

Tokyo Fire Department officials encourage New Year’s revelers to cut the mochi into small pieces and to chew the rice cakes slowly before swallowing. They also ask family members to carefully observe young children and senior citizens when they are eating mochi.

Fire department officials also recommend that emergency 119 phone calls be made immediately to the fire department when anyone begins choking on mochi.

If the choking individuals are still conscious, the fire department recommends having them lie face down. Others should press hard on the individuals’ backs while supporting their chests and lower jaws to dislodge the mochi from their throats.