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Parasite museum attracts attention the world over

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TOKYO >> A research facility in Meguro ward, Tokyo, that specializes in parasites has been drawing a lot of attention since the summer after 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 pandemic, hopes the publicity surrounding Gates’ visit continues to increase interest in the world of parasites, a topic few people are familiar with.

The parasite museum was founded in 1953 by Dr. Satoru Kamegai, a physician who became the museum’s first director. Kamegai invested his own money to establish the museum, which enabled him to conduct research on parasites and raise awareness about preventing parasitic diseases. The museum has a collection of approximately 60,000 specimens.

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

The museum garnered more than 50,000 visitors a year prior to the pandemic; that number decreased by half in 2020. As a result, museum revenue had been expected to drop by approximately 6 million yen (about $45,000) in fiscal 2020, prompting it to set a goal of collecting 5 million yen (about $37,300) in donations each year following the pandemic.

While the museum met its 2020 goal, it fell short the following year, raising only 4.5 million yen, so it reached out for financial support on its website.

But August was a big month for the museum. The appeal for donations caught the attention of a Twitter user with a large following of biology buffs, and the request was shared more than 30,000 times, raising donations this year from 2 million yen to more than 5 million yen within the month.

Gates is also interested in the museum, having worked to combat infectious diseases globally through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He visited Japan in August and paid a visit to the museum, spending time at an exhibit on parasites transmitted from pigs to humans.

Gates later tweeted about his visit, and after two days, the number of hits to the museum’s website, normally about 1,000 daily, jumped to about 7,000.

Inspired museum leaders have resolved to continue perpetuating Kamegai’s goals. “We will make full use of the recent attention to our museum to focus more than ever on research, education and raising awareness, as well as services for the visitors,” said museum Director Toshiaki Kuramochi.

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