Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Of Doctor Fish and Ika

Our family seems to have a personal goal of visiting as many aquariums as possible through out the world. We've been to aquariums in America. We went to aquariums in Australia. We went to the aquarium in Singapore. We went to the aquarium in Osaka. Several times. We have been to the aquarium in Masa's home town now several times too. In February we went again.

I am really sick and tired of looking at fish, sharks, octopus, sea anemones, brine shrimp, sea stars, anything with gills that lives in the water. Otters I still like. They are like the ocean's cats: frisky, cute, playful. Seals stink and penguins are overrated. Dolphins are cool but I am bored watching the dolphin shows--you'll have to slap me in a wet suit and dump me in the actual tank with them before they regain my interest.

My youngest daughter, Saki however is fascinated and thrilled by the sight of a dolphin. Which is why on our recent visit to the Kagoshima City Aquarium she kept rushing into the otter viewing room and tugging at her older sister's, Reno's sleeve and shrieking in her extremely I'm-so-excited voice, "IKA! IKA! IKA show! COME ON!"

Now "ika" in Japanese means "squid." While I find them tasty, I don't particularly fancy looking at them alive and swimming around with their large eyes perched next to their tentacles. . . Disney knew what it was doing when it made that bad guy in Pirates of the Caribbean II look like a squid face. I prefer otters to palatable monsters of the deep.

Saki however would not give up. She continued to race back and forth between the "IKA SHOW" and the otter viewing room until suddenly it dawned on me what she was saying. Ika SHOW? What the hell kind of SHOW can ika put on? My interest aroused I directed Reno to follow her agitated sister to the show pool of the aquarium. As soon as we entered it I realized what was going on. There were no trainers holding up hoops with squid jumping through them. No one was standing next to the pool blowing a whistle and directing two lines of squid to dance on the surface of the water with their tentacles.

It was a dolphin show. In Japanese, dolphin is "iruka". Saka had mixed up squid for dolphin. We stayed and the kids were overjoyed to leave dripping wet from the fabulous full belly flops that the dolphins performed with the express purpose of dousing the crowd--or at least those silly enough to sit in the front rows.

We then proceeded to look and gawk at every other sea creature that the aquarium had to offer. None of them particularly interested me and I was letting my thoughts wander to how much more interesting the afternoon would have been if we had just wandered around the downtown streets of Kagoshima when something in the lobby on our way out snapped me out of it.

First it was a display that you can touch. I may be 41 years old, but things that you can touch rather than just look at still get me kind of shrieky excited. I rushed over. It was a tank of tiny little fish, they looked like minnows, with holes in the lid so that you could stick your finger in. I stuck my finger in. Suddenly, at least 40 of the fish swam eagerly over to my finger and started, well, sucking on it. It tickled. The girls shrieked with joy. Reno stuck her finger in another hole. Saki wailed in distress until I picked her up so she could stick her finger in and have the fish suck on it too.

We stood there and stuck our digits in the tank for about 20 minutes at which point Masa approached us to say in a quiet disgruntled voice, "What are you doing? You're embarrassing me." Startled, I thought he meant that we were hogging the sucking fish and should give other people a chance at them so I corralled the girls over to a rest bench across from their tank. While we sat there Masa pointed to the tank of sucking fish and said, "Watch what normal people do."

I watched for about 15 minutes and it appeared that normal people approached the tank, apprehensively stuck in a finger, squealed in fright when the 40 or so fish began to eagerly suck on their digits and then quickly withdrew their fingers and proceeded to a sink to wash their hands with soap and water. It didn't mater what age they were, young couples, grandparents, mothers and fathers, high school children, grade school children, they all pretty much proceeded in the same way. Babies cried.

There was a lull in traffic past the sucking fish tank and Reno and Saki immediately raced over to thrust their fingers back in. Masa sighed. "You guys haven't even thought to wash your hands, have you?"

I left Masa to his canned coffee and cigarette and went back over to the tank of sucking fish. This time I paused and tried to read the sign above it. Apparently these minnows were called "Doctor fish " and they are actually used to treat people with skin problems and diseases. The "sucking" sensation" is actually their little teeny mouths feeding off of old skin. There are onsens (hot springs) in Japan that have imported them and cater especially to eczema suffers. I immediately wanted to whip off my shoes and socks and stick my feet in the tank. The tank was about three feet off the ground though so I had to admit defeat. It was impossible not to mention against all propriety to stick my winter calloused feet into that tank.

On the drive home the kids and I touched each other's fingers and marveled at how smooth and soft they were.

Next vacation I want to hunt up one of the onsens in Japan that boasts of having "Dr. Fish" in their hot springs.


Cat said...

LOL!! Good to see you back and in good form!

How often does my husband tell me that things aren't done that way just when you are really enjoying something!! Stick in the mud!

I'll join you sticking my feet into a pond of those fish but I am not too sure about the rest of me!

Donna said...

So, was it just that you were enjoying it rather than be horrified? haha!

I remembered reading about doctor fish recently, here's the blog post that says there is one in Minoh City.


Sarah@mommyinjapan said...

Being able to embaress your husband WITHOUT EVEN KNOWING IT is a wonderful by-product of being a foreigner. We do it all the time, too.

I was so excited to see that you're writing again. I have been keeping you in my prayers.

Lulu said...

Glad to see you writing again! Lovely post! I relayed it to Shun because that is the kind of mistake I would make if I was excited as Saki was! hehe...

I really want to try the doctor fish also! But just on my feet, and hands maybe! Anywhere else and I would get too freaked out! I already get freaked out in onsens cos of all the naked people (I am getting better though!!! I guess I have been in Japan long enough!)

I hope things have sorted themselves out, glad to see a post had been worried. Take care!

Midori said...

Mate- you were in Kagoshima!?! Am gutted that I wasn't there to meet up with you!!! ;-) Kagoshima Aquarium is AWESOME, SO much better than the London one. How long were you in Kags for?

Nay said...

Oh i have heard about this fish before!! I would love to go to the onsen and see what they felt like - though it sounds slightly weird!! lol

I'm glad to see your back, I hope everything is ok :)

Christelle said...

Yay!! A new post :) Great writing and so interesting about the doctor fish. They'd make an interesting twist on the old pedicure don't you think?

Sheri said...

Nice to see you back. We get a lot of the same reaction from hubby-washing hands is sooo important here!

medea said...

What! You were in Kagoshima and you didn't tell me? :( I could have come over to the Aquarium to spice things up for you!

Sara said...

Wow!! Those fish sound awesome.. but I'd be afraid they'd swim in places they shouldnt go....

If you ever find a list of onsens let us know!! I'd like an expat ladies onsen trip muchly!

Kobe has an aquarium too.. but its not that great. Ryohei was way impressed by the dolphin show tho. I don't think I've embarrassed him too much with my foreign-nes yet. But I'm sure I can't keep it back much longer! hehe

Amy said...

Eurgh, my brother has a fascination with aquariums and fish as well, and I am with you on being completely over having to look at fish. If I hear 'Hey Amy, come look at this shark!!!' one more time, I will SCREAM!