The Meguro Parasitological Museum (目黒寄生虫館) goes under your skin, arguably the world’s only exhibition completely dedicated to roundworms, hookworms, flukes, nematodes, leeches, and other bloodsuckers. Located in a small inconspicuous office building in a residential area of Tokyo, its two floors display specimens of parasites stored in formaldehyde-filled glass jars and vials or in ghastly larger-than-life-size replicas: a tortoise head with leech-infested eyelids, a dog’s heart ravaged by heartworms, a 8.8-metre-long tapeworm extracted from a man who had eaten raw trout.
The first floor presents a general overview of parasites, while the second floor focuses on the parasite life cycle, showcasing three hundred actual specimens, some of which are shown below.
The museum was founded in 1953 by Dr. Satoru Kamegai (1909-2002), who treated patients who had been exposed to unsanitary conditions during and after World War II, resulting in a collection of 45,000 samples of parasites. It is maintained by volunteers and partly supported by subsidies. When Dr. Kamegai died in July 2002 at the age of 94, his son was supposed to take over, but he passed away unexpectedly. Since then, Prof. Akihido Uchida, who also teaches clinical zoology at Azabu University, has been the acting director. According to him, the aim of the museum is not to scare, but to educate people.
About 70,000 people, two-thirds of them teens and in their 20s, visit the museum every year. Bizarrely enough, it has turned into a hot dating spot, where young couples meet for a different kind of kick. The museum holds a collection of reference materials on parasitology and publishes a compendium of articles in Japanese and English entitled “Progress on Medical Parasitology in Japan”. The building also houses a research project. Visitors can acquire souvenirs in the museum shop, such as T-shirts depicting tapeworms (“Wonderful World of the Worm”) and other parasites, keyholders with specimens encased in clear plastic and parasite-shaped pendants.
Visiting hours and admission:
Tuesday to Sunday 10:00 to 17:00, closed on Mondays (when Monday is a holiday, the next working day); closed from Dec. 29 to Jan. 5. Free admission
Location and access:
4-1-1, Shimomeguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153-0064, JAPAN; 153-0064 東京都目黒区下目黒 4-1-1
Access: JR Yamanote Line (JR山手線), Tokyo Metro Namboku line (東京メトロ南北線), Toei Mita Line (都営三田線), and Tokyu Meguro Line (東急目黒線), then by bus from JR Meguro Station West Exit (Nishi-Guchi/西口), all lines except 黒09 to Otori-Jinja Mae (大鳥神社前).
Click to enlarge the thumbnails.
Image 1: Notes copied from Western books on parasitology, collected by Dr. Kamegai; Image 2: ukiyo-e by Hokusai depicting an Edo-era commoner suffering from elephantiasis, a disease that is characterized by the thickening of the skin and underlying tissues, in this case the scrotum, caused by filariasis or podoconiosis. The museum holds more graphic material on elephantiasis, which could be found in Japan until the 1970s; Image 3: infested specimen of a tortoise head displayed at the Meguro Parasitological Museum; Image 4: infested specimens of crabs head displayed at the Meguro Parasitological Museum; Image 5: specimens of a tapeworm displayed at the Meguro Parasitological Museum; Image 6: specimens of a 8.8-metre-long tapeworm displayed at the Meguro Parasitological Museum; Image 7: infested rodent displayed at the Meguro Parasitological Museum.