Have you ever heard of a parasite museum? Research laboratories yes, but a museum? Never! Not until I came to Tokyo. And it took me years later to actually go and see it for myself. I mean, who wants to spend time looking at images of creatures sucking life out of other creatures? Science geeks and nerds, definitely! But ordinary people? I am not so sure, speaking from my own limited perspective. So hereʼs a bit of information I learned from my recent visit to the establishment.
Of all the museums in the world, Meguro Parasitological Museum (MPM) is the only one of its kind. Thanks to Kamegai Satoruʼs vision and his non-profit charitable organization, Japan can be proud of having the “Worldʼs Only Parasitological Museum”. MPM was established as a research facility in the early 1950s. Dr. Kamegai was a physician and treated a lot of patients afflicted with parasitic illnesses due to poor sanitation during postwar Japan. He then started compiling cases and collecting specimens. He and his foundation discovered 300 samples of 45,000 parasites. Preserved specimens and realistic models can be viewed at the museum free of charge.
MPM occupies the first two floors of a building located in Shimomeguro. It is maintained by the foundationʼs generous supporters from the private sector and in part by government assistance because of its relevant educational element. But donʼt expect too much. It is a relatively modest space and accommodates a small number of visitors at a time. A visit normally takes 30-45minutes, so youʼll be in and out in a breeze. You might have to wait a bit if there happens to be a large group of students at the time you visit. So perhaps itʼs best to go on a weekend.
Before entering the premises, know that there are a few DONʼTs that you should take note of. Be sure to look at the rules displayed in icons and a few written words at the glass entrance.
This museum may not be a popular attraction, but it is one you wonʼt regret for whatever itʼs worth. The exhibits are graphic and easy to understand despite the mostly Japanese descriptions. But there is an English guidebook available at ¥450 at the Museum Shop on the second floor. So I would highly recommend getting one if youʼd like to have a better understanding of the entire exhibit. Moreover, spending a few of your loose change (or bills) on souvenir items (e.g. key rings with preserved parasites, pens, plastic folders, tshirts, etc) in the shop can go a long way in support of the museum and the foundation. Donations are of course also accepted and encouraged but not obligatory.
If you do get the guidebook, you can then work your way around the 2nd floor before going back down to the 1st floor. Photography of the exhibits is allowed, but not at the Museum Shop. So click away as you wish on the specimens displayed, but never on the popular embossed tapeworm T-shirt hanging in the shop nor on any other items for sale.
What is there to see on each floor? The first level presents an introduction and general information about parasites. Whether you have had prior knowledge (from basic science curriculum in High School or College) or not, the presentation is a great refresher or starter nonetheless.
The second level showcases human parasites and their life cycle. There is an interactive monitor that displays where in Japan the parasites commonly thrived. Fortunately, Japanʼs sanitation and control measures have improved much over the years. Hence, most of the parasites that afflicted the people then have been eradicated. The screen has an English language option so youʼll probably take more time here.
An important highlight of the second floor tour is undoubtedly the preserved 8.8meter tapeworm taken out of a 40year-old manʼs intestines. Dr. Satyu Yamagutiʼs (University Professor and Researcher) studies on parasites handwritten in English is also interesting. I must say that for a man, he had a really good cursive penmanship.
Whichever floor you decide to begin your exploration is totally up to you. You are free to stay as long as you wish, take down notes, or whatever. Just be extra careful and always mind your way. You wouldnʼt want any untoward accidents happening, would you?
Take the West Exit of Meguro Station, hop on any bus except #09 and get off at Otori-Jinja Mae (2nd stop). But if you arenʼt pressed with time, walk westward along Meguro Dori Avenue towards Meguro River. The river is lined with cherry blossom trees and youʼll be able to enjoy the view if you go in early spring when the flowers are in bloom. But donʼt get distracted. Walk further past Yamate-Meguro intersection until you see the building on your left-hand side. It only takes 15mins to get to MPM from Meguro Station on foot.
There are shops, cafes and restaurants along the way, so you can grab a bite to or from the museum. However, food might probably be the last thing in your mind after you leave MPM! But donʼt worry, Meguro is a nice urban area with a variety of entertainment and shopping venues for diversion. Theyʼre sure to take your mind off the parasites creeping in your active imagination.