TOKYO, JAPAN — Sticky, chewy rice cakes — the silent killers of the Japanese New Year season — claimed three lives in Tokyo this year, fire officials say.

The rice cakes known in Japanese as "mochi" are a traditional part of New Year family feasts, but every year many people die when the sticky cakes lodge in their throats.

Every year many die when the sticky cakes lodge in their throats.

The three victims in Tokyo were a 92-year-old woman, a 74-year-old man and a 62-year-old woman, fire officials said. Another six people were rushed to hospital and they recovered.

"The elderly are particularly susceptible to choking on rice cakes because they often cannot chew them thoroughly," a fire official told Reuters Saturday.

"We are asking people to cut rice cakes into small pieces for elderly family members," the official added.

Last year, eight people died in Tokyo, and 21 nationwide, after choking on the holiday food.

[Thanks to Vince Sherel for this contribution.]