150 people, most of them men, come to Yamamoto Mimikakiten (Yamamoto Earpick Shop) in Tokyo every day to lay their heads on the lap of an attractive woman, who cleans their ears with a sharp bamboo stick. This popular Japanese practice apparently reminds the guys of their childhood and being cared for by mom.
The parlor, one of 11 in the chain, has 16 rooms and is often fully-booked, by customers paying 2,700 yen ($35) for a half-hour session.
One employee, "Amane," who declined to give her real name, wears a summer kimono as she welcomes her clients with a cup of green tea. She then lays their heads gently on her lap and talks to them as she selects the right kind of metal or bamboo pick to remove the wax: “Customers say it is healing and comfortable, with some even falling deep asleep and snoring during the session."
She sees nothing sexual in what she offers: “Customers come here to be healed."
Store manager Satoru Takahashi says the men know that there are limits to the services that his employees offer: “After the ear-cleaning, the girls blow in the customers’ ears to remove any remaining dust. Lots of guys ask the girls to blow a lot."
A sign in the reception sets the boundaries: “We are not a salon offering sexual services. We will stop ear cleaning whenever there is an act that offends women.”
Ear cleaning has boomed in Japan since it was de-regulated six years ago and people without medical training were allowed to begin offering it as a service.
Shops have sprung up all over the larger cities, and while Yamamoto Mimikakiten offers a very straightforward service, other chains offer women wearing maid outfits who will spend several hours working on a customer’s ears and other parts.