Friday, September 19, 2014

Tokyo's Creepy, Crawly Parasite Museum

Billed as the world's only museum focused solely on parasites, the Meguro Parasitological Museum in Tokyo is the brainchild of a Japanese doctor who saw a huge uptick in parasite infected patients due to poor sanitation in the wake of World War II. It aims to promote research and educate the public on parasites; however I have a feeling most of its visitors come for the gross out factor. We made sure to fit in a visit for just that reason! 

The museum is located on two narrow floors of an unassuming office building-- not enough room to display all 60,000 specimens in their collection, but there's still plenty to look at. 

This horror movie prop parasite specimen is, so far as I can gather, a whale's kidney infected by the nematode Crassicauda giliakiana. 

Another type of nematode, Ascaris lumbricoides, is estimated to have infected 70% of the Japanese population due to poor sanitation and scarcity of safe food as the country struggled to rebuild after World War II. While infection symptoms are often minor, I don't recommend Googling for photos. Or maybe that's your thing. My darling boyfriend--who has a background in biology--helped out with the research, then proceeded to Google every disgusting parasite he could think of (not the ones I asked about, but thanks honey) in order to show me the nauseating photos.

Below, a display showing the life cycle of some of the preserved specimens.

What you're looking at in the left jar is Schistosoma japonicum in the blood vessels that connect the liver to the small intestine. This parasite matures in the liver before laying eggs that continue through the intestines or urinary tract to be either passed (and thus potentially infect another host), or circulated back to the liver. Schistosoma worms infect individuals who come into contact with unclean water. The resulting disease, Schistosomiasis, kills somewhere between 12,000-200,000 people a year, underscoring the need for clean water in developing countries. S. japonicum was largely eradicated in Japan after the government encouraged a move away from using water oxen for farming, as they can pass on the parasite. 

Below, a creepy 1971 Japanese educational poster for Schistosomiasis. The characteristic distended stomach is caused by liver damage from the Schistosoma eggs, which then results in abdominal swelling.

It's a wonder this poor bird is still standing (dammit, where's an ex-parrot joke when I need one?), as he appears to be completely riddled with parasites. Really, they're showing parasites and the organs they can infect.

If you're already afraid of what's in your food, don't head up to the second floor, which explores human parasites:

A nearly 30 foot tapeworm! If you need a clearer illustration of just how long this is, grab the ribbon hanging next to it and stroll across the room. This particular tapeworm is the Diphyllobothrium nihonkaiense, which unsurprisingly infects humans who munch on raw or undercooked fish.

But don't put down your sushi! Infection from sushi is relatively rare because the risk stems mainly from freshwater fish which are rarely used in sushi. This may be why the museum booklet describes D. nihonkaiense as stemming from the consumption of raw trout. 

Raw salmon is easily my favorite, and has a fascinating history. Because of the possibility of parasites in a fish which migrates between fresh and salt water, salmon has only recently become a sushi bar staple in Japan. When Japanese overfishing created a potential market for Norwegian fish in Japan, Norway took advantage of the opportunity by launching a concerted PR campaign on behalf of Norwegian salmon in the 1980s. While the Norwegian article doesn't address how the parasite concerns were resolved, apparently Japan's indigenous Ainu population had long been freezing salmon to kill parasites, and this same basic technique of deep freezing is employed in much of Japan and the US today to ensure the fish is safe to eat.

"Important Parasites of Humans", showing the organs they infect. Amongst the creepy crawlies are our friends Ascaris lumbricoides, Schistosoma japonicum, a Chinese liver fluke, and beef and pork tapeworms.

Above, wax casts of parasite eggs 1,000 times the actual size. These were created as a teaching tool by Jinkichi Numata, a technician at the Institute for Infectious Disease. The beautifully detailed sketches below are just one of the books on display from Dr. Stayu Yamaguti, who contributed substantially to parasite research. These sketches and notes were not entirely his own observations, rather they were his way of compiling current research and theories.

The small gift shop on the second floor. They offer postcards, tote bags, t-shirts and some smaller items, but I can't help feel that they're missing out on the market for over-the-top merchandise many tourists would buy. Still, there's a couple pretty gross postcards if you'd like to horrify your friends back home.

After all this, you'd think food would be the last thing on our minds, but we were starving and headed across the street for some excellent takoyaki.


Visiting the Meguro Parasitological Museum:

-Admission is free and the museum is open Tuesday through Sunday 10-5 

-The museum is approx 15 minute walk from Meguro station, check out their website for detailed directions, or use Google maps--which served us quite well for most of our city destinations in Japan. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Giveaway | Senay Studio Phone Case Giveaway

This week's giveaway is from Senay Studio, an Etsy shop with the most ridiculously beautiful illustrated pillows and phone cases!

They're all gorgeous, but I think the Evening Light pillow is my favorite: 

Senay Studio is offering one lucky reader their choice of smartphone case (available for the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy)! Click through to enter...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Chandler O'Leary's American Roadtrip Sketchbook

I just stumbled across the blog of Chandler O'Leary, an illustrator who creates these charming watercolor prints of her travels. The vintage postcard feel of her artwork really fits with all the fun, kitschy attractions she's visited, and of course it makes me want to take off on my own road trip! 

Check out her shop too, where you can purchase prints of some of her artwork (and yes, you can get the pink elephant).

Monday, September 15, 2014

Travel Pinspiration: Autumnal Adventures

With cool weather already starting in Ohio, I've been particularly captivated by all things autumn on Pinterest. Here's some of my favorite pins lately...


Friday, September 12, 2014

The Peculiar Presence of North Korean Art in China and Beyond

 It probably comes as no surprise to hear that North Korea has a factory of sorts employing 4,000 people to pump out propaganda artwork. By now, many people are aware of the weird, manufactured cult of personality surrounding the Kim dynasty. What has intrigued me lately is how North Korean art pops up around the world. Let's take a look at the unexpected ways the closed-off country interacts with the art world...

This unassuming building in a former industrial neighborhood of Bejing is home to the sole foreign branch of North Korea's Mansudae Art Gallery, where tourists and locals can browse and buy state-sanctioned art from North Korea.

Though--as you'll see a bit further down--part of the appeal of North Korean art is the low price tag, Mansudae curiously admits on their website that the artwork is marked up due to "Chinese collectors that have more familiarity with Mansudae artists." While you won't be able to see what's on offer without a trip to Beijing, many works are cataloged online. Here's some of pieces shown on the website. There are actually many pastoral and floral themes, but the clearly propagandized pieces are far more fascinating to me:

Below, the Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang, where the majority of the work happens. It employs 1,000 artists trained in art from a young age and selected from graduates of Pyongyang University of Fine Art, along with another 3,000 or so laborers to keep the massive "production center" running smoothly.

A Business Week article on Mansudae offers this tantalizing little nugget from German art museum director Klaus Klemp, who had occasion to visit the studio when working with them on a commission: 

 "Mansudae’s artists produce kitschy knockoffs of several foreign genres, including Dutch landscapes and Parisian city scenes, which according to several experts, likely get sold abroad. 'If you’re standing on the Seine and you buy a painting from one of those stands, there’s a good chance it was made in North Korea,' says Klemp. 'I can’t imagine that those artworks are sold locally.'"

Mansudae Studio is also tasked with the creation of monuments, statues and other public art (because what's a dictatorship without at least a couple 60 foot tall statues of yourself?)

But here's the really interesting part; North Korea will happily hire out Mansudae's talents to fellow despots and narcissistic politicians (oh, and Germany) who wish to outsource their monuments. Unsurprisingly, many of these projects have been controversial.

One of the better known, Senegal's African Renaissance monument was designed by a French artist, but brought to life by Mansudae in 2010. Abdoulaye Wade, president of Senegal at the time, framed the decision in blunt financial terms, saying “Only the North Koreans could build my statue...I had no money.” That price tag is estimated to be somewhere between 25 to 70 million dollars, though there are reports that Wade struck a deal to pay North Korea in Senegalese land. The towering 164 foot tall statue--for comparison, taller than the Statue of Liberty--apparently came out with Korean features, so the heads needed to be sent back and redone!

The only Western democracy to have hired North Korea thus far is Germany, who commissioned Mansudae to recreate an art nouveau fountain in Frankfurt. 

The original, often referred to as the Fairy Tale Fountain, was melted down for its metal during the war. Mansudae's reproduction suffered just one small initial issue; a harsh Soviet style "cement block hairdo" that sculptors adjusted with some guidance from the Germans.

The decision to go with North Korea was ostensibly made because skilled German sculptors no longer work in the realist style of the original fountain, however the final cost of a little over $250,000 (including delivery!) couldn't have hurt.

There are quite a few more monuments and buildings--mostly African-- made by North Korea's Mansudae, but I'll leave you with just one more. It's not hard to spot the reason for criticism of the Democratic Republic of Congo's monument to former leader Laurent Kabila. The statue was widely panned for appearing to have plunked Kabila's head on Kim Jong Il's body! I guess when you've already got so many perfectly good despot bodies pre-designed, why go to the bother of creating a new one?

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