Tokyo was a bit of strange city for me. Some museums were shut when they weren’t supposed to be and large swathes of others were shut for renovation but still cost full whack. After we’d visited the Ghibli Museum that led us to look further down our Tokyo hit-list and head towards the Meguro Parasitological Museum for something a bit different. It delivered to our expectations and more. If you’re squeamish then I would look away now…
Getting there is quite straightforward, so long as you follow the map properly from Meguro station – we walked over half a mile the wrong way after coming out the station because my sense of direction left me alone that day. Even when you do head the correct way the museum is an unassuming place along a fairly nondescript stretch of Japanese road.
The museum is in a modern block with such small signage that I’m glad I researched it before I’d left the hostel. When you walk in you get a strange sensation of calm and menace. There were no staff around. The air-con hummed to itself and to rows of glass vials imprisoning their individual horror shows. I looked at Kristina and grinned – this was better than another stint of ukiyo-e or kimono displays and it was worth the dose of galleryfoot we would no doubt accumulate (the debilitating condition all backpackers will experience when shuffling around galleries and museums at an unnatural pace and gait).
So, here’s what you clicked for – monsters that live in other animals!
We walked around the room in almost complete silence. It felt like people were studying us from hidden cameras, almost as if it was one of those sadistic Japanese TV shows where something would jump out at us and shower us with ‘hilarious’ maggots. But no. The silence was all-pervasive and focussed our attention on each vial in turn.
We peered in and tried to fathom what the lumps of flesh originally belonged to. Some were obvious, a turtle’s head with it’s tongue replaced by a parasite was one clear highlight, another was a rodent with its abdomen bloated through a parasitical invasion. There was a lot to gawp at and enough to slightly turn your stomach over.
This delightful specimen was an almost 9 metre-long tapeworm extracted from a living human.
Think about that.
That’s over four and half of me stacked one on top of the other.
And a bit more.
Governments present advertising designed to steer you away from undercooked meat through natty music choices and close camera work but really, this would do the trick. 26 seconds of slow zooming on this followed by a quick cut to a man screaming ‘THIS CAME OUT OF ME!’, then 2 seconds of black. That would do the trick.
Other than tapeworms there were hook worms, which I already knew about, and know to fear. They get into your body through the thin skin of our pampered bare soles and burrow up into your organs. Particularly the liver and lungs. This can be fatal if the infestation gets too extreme. Worst of all they are actually very common. I no longer walk barefoot on sand or soil.
There were other people in the museum. This surprised both of us but clearly they had been struck dumb by the surreal atmosphere as well. They had been on the upper floor of the museum when we’d come in but we would never have suspected that.
The museum is not even very large. There are the two floors and perhaps 200 specimen jars (with thousands of specimens inside) but the whole unique experience is free. On the upper floor you find a small shop at the end of the room selling parasites imprisoned in acrylic key-rings, books, and t-shirts. Now, I love unusual tees and I usually leave a bit of space in my packing for a special purchase. Here I found a choice of three T-shirts in lovely crisp colours with microscope scans of parasites. I had to have one. A lasting souvenir from this very strange place. That it took about five more minutes of me standing there for anyone who worked in the museum to appear just added to the strange allure of this place.
If you’re going to Japan, and going anywhere near Tokyo, set aside some time to explore this little museum because it’s like nothing you’re likely to see again.