Our female reporter gets her ears cleaned by someone else for the first time in years, and loves it.

Every time our Japanese-language reporter Ikuna Kamezawa passes by Ochanomizu Station in downtown Tokyo, the same thig catches her eye. If you look across the Kandagawa River to one of the buildings on the other side, you’ll see a sign for Yamamoto Mimikakiten, an ear-cleaning salon.

That might sound like a strange service to offer, but Japan is pretty particular about inner ear hygiene. Drug stores here sell all sorts of bamboo or metallic picks for cleaning out wax and other buildup, and it’s not only common for parents to clean their kids’ ears, but also traditional for couples to clean each other’s.

However, with Ikuna being a grown-up single woman, she’s been cleaning her own ears for the past 10 years or so. Every time she sees the sign for the salon, she finds herself craving a deeper cleaning, but since the customer lays their head in lap of the salon worker, who’s pretty much always a woman, Ikuna wondered if this was a sexual thing, and wasn’t sure if they even accept female customers.

▼ The salon’s entrance, with a sign advertising its hizamakura mimikaki (“ear cleaning with someone’s lap as your pillow”) service

But it turned out that Ikuna’s concerns were unnecessary on both counts. Yes, Yamamoto Mimikakiten is happy to welcome female customers, and their salon isn’t about titillation at all, just relaxation and comfort.

After climbing the stairs to the reception desk on the second floor, Ikuna was shown to her room, where the tatami reed floor mats and soft lighting gave off the atmosphere of a cozy Japanese apartment. She was then introduced to her cleaner, a kimono-clad woman named Tsubasa.

Though Tsubasa didn’t ask, Ikuna felt compelled to warn her that she has particularly moist earwax. “Don’t worry, that’s not a problem at all,” Tsubasa gently reassured her, and beckoned for Ikuna to lay her head in her lap.

The 30-minute course starts off with a relaxing five-minute ear massage, and right away Ikuna realized she’d made the right decision by scheduling an appointment. The ear massage is followed by five minutes of cleaning for each ear, and the remainder is for additional massaging of the head, shoulders, or eye sockets. However, guests can request a certain amount of adjustment to those times to meet their personal needs or preferences, and Tsubasa herself suggested that she spend a little extra time on cleaning Ikuna’s ears, since they had quite a bit of buildup.

With deft and delicate movements, Tsubasa began skillfully scraping out wax. Ikuna was amazed by how she used the exact right amount of force to get the job done without causing any pain or discomfort. On the contrary, the process felt liberating and refreshing.

Out of curiosity, Ikuna asked Tsubasa to show her the amount of wax she’d removed, and she was startled at how much less earwax she was leaving the salon with. This was truly money well spent (the 30-minute course costs 3,200 yen [US$29]), and when her time was up she had such a satisfied smile that Takashi Harada, her cameraman for the day, was sitting there with an expression that clearly conveyed the question “Can I try too?”

Luckily, Tsubasa’s schedule was open, so Ikuna and Takashi swapped places so he too could experience the joy of hizamakura mimikaki.

Now that she realizes her initial apprehension about this ear-cleaning salon was unwarranted, Ikuna is already looking forward to going back again, and maybe next time she’ll splurge for the 60-minute course.

Location information
Yamamoto Mimikakiten / 山本耳かき店
Address: Tokyo-to, Chiyoda-ku, Soto Kanda 2-1-2, Toshin Honkan Building 2nd floor
東京都千代田区外神田2-1-2 東進本館ビル2F
Open noon-10 p.m. (weekdays), 11 a.m.-10 p.m. (weekends, holidays)

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