Day 6 in Japan: Meguro Parasitological Museum and Shinjuku

So we’ve now updated this post with text — read on for details!

Today we took it easier than we had been before, mainly because we were very much physically feeling the last many days of endlessly running around Tokyo from one sight to another. We went to see one of the last major sites on our “list” of things to see in Tokyo, which was a Parasitological Museum, and then spent hours in arcades (Andrew basically letting Teisha get her fill of claw machines).

We had a nice breakfast at a place we’ve now eaten breakfast at three times, each time getting a dish of sweet toast with egg/cheese cooked together inside (not sure how they do it) — very tasty! — and some other side pastry dishes. However, locals seemed to get other dishes than this, mostly a small salad with a hard boiled egg and a little bit of meat — much healthier. We took pictures of the cafe.

As always, we hopped on the subway across town to the museum (more subway pictures below). The Meguro Parasitological Museum was a real kick. And if you were wondering, yes, it is the only museum on parasites in the entire world, and I think we discovered why, as you’ll read below. Though it’s a bit small, just two stories with one large room on each story (and a smaller exhibit room attached to the second floor main room), it features lots of little various specimens preserved in jars and provides at least a name for each, and often a poster with its life-cycle or other relevant information. I think you’ll get the idea from the pictures we’ve posted below. Definitely not a museum for the faint of heart. Their crowning glory is a 8.8 meter-long tapeworm pulled out of the stomach of a middle-aged man — it is permanently preserved in plastic, as seen in the blue case Andrew is posing next to (and in other pictures).
Although the exhibits were nearly all in Japanese, they luckily had a guidebook in English (though this was their only book in English in the giftshop!). Turns out that about half of all discovered parasites were discovered in Japan — this makes it a likely place for a parasite museum! The founder was a professor of parasitology who recently passed away, but has had successors taking care of the museum and there are even parasite laboratories in the same building (so they claimed — we couldn’t actually check them out — no living parasites on display either).
I think this knowledge of parasite-prevalence in Japan makes me better understand their focus on cleanliness — we’re starting to think that it is extremely rare for Japanese to eat anything they have directly touched with their fingers (few finger foods), as we witnessed Japanese natives eating pizza with a fork and knife and we felt like savages when we held our slices by the crust and bit in, only a few tables away (we got pictures below as evidence!). Even pastries are carefully placed in tight clear plastic bags, making it possible to never need to touch the pastry directly with your fingers. I have yet to see anyone here eat chips, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see chopsticks. Napkins also appear to be rather rare, again possibly because nobody touches the food they eat…

We hopped once again back onto the subways (so many endless stairs and escalators, when you’re lucky!) and headed to Shinjuku for arcades (and a Japanese/English dictionary). Andrew fell in love with a drum game where you have to beat out the rhythm displayed and use different ways of hitting the drums with the sticks — he was a natural. Teisha meanwhile wasted her time winning cute little stuffed toys from the claw machines. We were amused to see a typing video game (picture below). And yes, there is Pachinko everywhere — often next to video game/claw machine arcades, but more often by itself. There is no gambling age that we can determine (also no age for smoking and drinking that we’ve discovered (often there are cigarette machines on the streets next to the drink machines), though there is a 18+ pornography enforcement).

Andrew got a crepe at one of many crepe stands sprinkled around town. The display cases are always quite alluring (picture below), though I’m not sure the actual crepe lived up to its plastic model, but it was still quite good, and let me get off my feet… which reminds me…

There are no benches anywhere in Tokyo! Ok, so there may be a few, but… you can go blocks, even miles, without seeing a reasonable place to sit other than in a place serving food. It got to the point where we’d buy some cheap snack, even if we weren’t hungry, just to have an excuse to sit down at the place. I heard that this is because the city does not want to give the homeless an easy place to sleep, but it is a bit ridiculous (at least by my spoiled American standards), though the locals are probably quite well adjusted to it. Also, there are almost no public trash cans in Tokyo — you have to really hunt for them, and usually end up carrying your trash with you for blocks before you find a hidden trash can to ditch it in. And yet somehow the streets remain very trashless…

That all said, after we had been in arcades long enough to completely numb our minds, we went back to our home-base around Ueno station and, after wandering down some well-lit alleys found a great ramen shop tucked away for dinner. Nearby was a plant shop selling little fish in jars, which probably did not have long to live. Not really sure what kind of fish they were, so if anybody has guesses (pictures at the bottom) we’d love to hear them.

And thanks to people for the earlier comments 🙂 Feel free to post more comments/questions/criticisms of our ignorance, or whatever!


3 Responses to “Day 6 in Japan: Meguro Parasitological Museum and Shinjuku”

So great that you are managing to post as you travel! I have so many questions — like, is gambling legal in Tokyo (pachinko is a form of gambling, right…?) — is that food as good as it looks?! (Teisha, you look almost guilty sitting there with those pastries! and Andrew, those shrimp tempura — mmmmmm!) And I love the photo (from the previous day) of Teisha sitting between two Japanese, both utterly uninterested while she is smiling and so happy…

Meg - May 24th, 2009 at 8:57 am

Thanks for the great questions — feel free to post more! Yes, gambling is quite legal, and quite common. At least once every block or two in the busier parts of town we’d see a Pachinko casino. And no, the food is actually better than it looks 🙂 The pastries there are great, though probably less sweet and more meaty than you’d imagine — some are ham/cheese or egg/cheese/bacon.

And yes, something that really bothered me when we first got here is how unhappy/unenthusiastic/nearly depressed a lot of the Japanese in Tokyo seem, but you’ve got to realize that it’s a big, busy city, like NYC, and I imagine it hardens a lot of people. We’re lucky we got to see a weekend to see that people really liven up when they’re not going to work, so that was at least refreshing…

Paradoxdruid - May 25th, 2009 at 6:48 am

Wow…what was the exhibit about the guy with the 10-lb testicles?

I think you should add some “not safe for work” tags to that picture 😛

Mallorn - May 26th, 2009 at 10:54 am

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