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Ear wax

This is a tragic story, but one that seems so improbable that I couldn’t possibly have made it up.  It involves a double murder, a blaze 4 or 5 months later, and ear wax.

When I was coming back to the office from lunch today, I came across the  aftermath of a fire that occurred on Sunday in Nishi-Shimbashi.  There was still an acrid smoky smell hanging about the surrounding streets, and debris was lying along the roadside next to burned out buildings in the backstreets.  This is only a few minutes walk away from the building where I work, and I was surprised I hadn’t heard about whatever happened.

I searched the Internet for some news about what happened.  According to the news I found, the fire apparently started on Sunday in an empty house at which a 21 year old woman, an employee of an ear-wax cleaning business, and her 78 year old grandmother were stabbed to death by an unemployed regular customer in August last year (which I was also surprised I hadn’t heard about). He is alleged to have been stalking the younger woman, as he was a spurned former customer who spent as much as 300,000 yen per month for ear cleaning services.  At 4,800 yen per hour (see below), he must have had a lot of ear wax.

13 buildings over 650 square metres were damaged in the fire, including an old house converted into a restaurant where I sometimes went for lunch, and one local resident was injured by the smoke.  Police believe the fire was suspicious.  The police are also investigating this incident’s relationship with another fire in Yokohama in the early hours of 31 December, in which a vacant house was also set on fire after the murder of a 70 year old grandmother who lived there.

There’s more news and pictures at these mainstream news sites:

Stepping aside from the fire and double murder, I feel a need to examine the concept of ear-wax removal.  I don’t think I’ve ever known that this type of service is available in Japan.  The amazing revelation that I can pay someone to clean my ears out led to further enquiry.  Let’s face it, ear wax is a fact of life.

A friend found a few interesting sites about ear wax and sent me the links (thanks Phil, I think).  The first is probably in the “too much information” category, but a New York Times article has reported scientific findings all about both ear wax types – there’s wet and dry – and which type you have depends on your genetic history.  As Japanese scientists have found out, people of African and European genetic background are likely to have wet ear wax, and those of Asian background have dry ear wax.

The second site was an Engadget review of an ear wax removal gadget that could only have been invented in Japan.  Via a miniature video camera attached to an ear picking device, watch yourself pick your own ear wax out either through a video scope, or transmitted onto a TV screen.  Maybe you could record it and upload it onto your own blog.  The manufacturer also has a website about the EarScope.

Another friend quickly boasted that he “tends to mind” his own ear wax, but “supposes it’s good to understand what options are out there”.  Proving his aural hygiene independence, he provded the result of a search at eBay for “ear wax”, which reveals countless tools and apparatus available for purchase to remove wax (presumably wet or dry) from your ear canals.

All this talk of ear wax brought back a memory that it might even be edible.  Our prime minister was caught once on camera, as this video will remind you.

But finally, for a taste of upmarket ear wax removal, perhaps nothing meets the luxuriousness (and euphemism) of Yamamoto Mimikaki, where it turns out the victim of the stabbing also worked.  I’ve never visited a website for an ear wax salon before, and wasn’t quite prepared for the possibility that it might be a cover for something a little more intimate than only ear cleaning.  It’s 2,700 yen for a half hour, 4,800 yen for an hour, and 500 yen to choose the girl of your choice to clean your ears.  You lay your head on her lap, and according to Tokyo Reporter, rumour has it that the ear cleaning service might even be a slippery slope towards – as the Japanese put it – a “pink” industry and involve light-touching or even more.

According to the Yamamoto Mimikaki’s website description of its store “concept”, the simple removal of that yellow gunk from inside your ears can be quite poetic.  (I haven’t decided whether it’s just the quality of my own translation that’s cringe worthy…):

誰しもが小さい頃、耳かきをしてもらった記憶を持っています。その耳かきの記憶は、膝枕ではありませんでしたか?あの頃の温かい記憶をもう一度。それこそが最大の癒しとなるのです。
Everyone has a memory of someone cleaning their ears for them when they were little.  That ear cleaning memory – wasn’t it a memory of laying your head in another’s lap?  Relive that warm memory again.  It becomes very therapeutic.

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