On our last day in Japan we just had to visit the Meguro Parasitological Museum. The MPM is actually a research facility: most of the building is given over to laboratories, a library of parasitological papers and texts,
and a collection of over 45,000 specimens for study, including over a thousand type specimens. But the first two floors of the facility are set up as a free public museum devoted entirely to parasites.
During our visit we were handicapped by our extremely poor (no, make that practically nonexistent) Japanese reading skills, so we were forced to rely heavily on our own personal knowledge of parasites to make sense of the exhibits. Fortunately, between our research from desiging Parasites Unleashed and my experience teaching invertebrate diversity, we were in pretty good shape. It helped that the exhibits are well thought out: the first floor of the museum introduces parasite ecology and taxonomy, and the second floor is devoted to their life cycles, with a focus on the human diseases they can cause.
But the one thing that really makes the exhibits work is that most of them contain real specimens. Specimens are displayed in jars, petri dishes, embedded in lucite, and spread out on wall mounts (like the 28 foot long tapeworm pulled out of a Japanese man who ate an infected Pacific salmon). Some of them are (disturbingly) preserved in situ so you can see how they affected their host’s tissues. The museum’s website claims that they have 300 specimens on display, but it seemed like far more, especially with an 11 year old along who loudly proclaimed exactly how gross each one looked.
The museum is a short walk west from the Meguro train station in Tokyo. It’s open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm. Closed Dec 29 – Jan 4. No eating or drinking is allowed in the museum, but there is a nifty gift shop if you need a keychain fob containing a real parasite.