Meguro Parasitological Museum attracts praise from Bill Gates

Bill Gates points to a display of the world’s longest tapeworm at the Meguro Parasitological Museum in Meguro Ward, Tokyo (from his Twitter account).

A research facility in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, that specializes in parasites has been drawing a lot of attention recently, following a series of major developments this summer that included a visit by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and an impromptu online donation drive.

The Meguro Parasitological Museum, which has suffered a decline in visitors due to the COVID-19 crisis, hopes this will be a good opportunity to increase interest in the world of parasites, which the general public is not familiar with.

 The Parasite Museum was founded in 1953 by Dr. Satoru Kamegai, a physician who became the museum’s first director. He invested his own money to establish the museum in order to conduct research on parasites and to educate and raise awareness of the prevention of parasitic diseases. The museum has a collection of approximately 60,000 specimens acquired from Japan and abroad.

 In keeping with the philosophy that Kamegai held — “no money should be paid for education and awareness” — the museum has no admission charges. Funding to operate the museum comes from the investment income of the foundation that manages the museum, profits from goods sold at the museum, and donations.

 The number of museum visitors, which was more than 50,000 a year before the pandemic, decreased by half in fiscal 2020. As a result, museum revenue had been expected to decrease by approximately ¥6 million in fiscal 2020, prompting the museum to set a goal of collecting donations of ¥5 million from fiscal 2020 onward.

Although the goal for the same fiscal year had been achieved, the next fiscal year fell short with only ¥4.5 million, thus, they appealed for financial support on their website.

 This caught the attention of someone with a large number of followers on social media in the area of biology who put out a call for donations to the museum on Twitter on Aug. 21. The appeal was shared more than 30,000 times, ballooning the donations for the current fiscal year from about ¥2 million to more than ¥5 million within the same month. As of Sept. 10, donations totaled ¥6 million.

 Bill Gates is also interested in the museum, having worked to combat infectious diseases around the world through his charitable foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He visited Japan in August this year to receive the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, and stopped by the museum during the visit.

 At the museum, he showed interest in the exhibit on parasites that can be transmitted from pigs to humans, and he also purchased a ballpoint pen and a strap set with Miyairi-gai freshwater clams that serve as a host for parasites.

 After the visit, Gates posted about his visit to the museum on his Twitter account, saying “I saw what is believed to be the world’s longest tapeworm,” among other things.

The number of accesses to the museum’s website, which normally receives about 1,000 hits a day, jumped to about 7,000 two days later.

Museum Director Toshiaki Kuramochi, 66, said, “We will make the full use of the recent attention to our museum to focus more than ever, on research, education, and rising awareness, as well as services for the visitors.”