Sunday, October 6, 2019

Adventure 24/50 : DOCTOR FISH!

It may be unethical. I am still thinking it over. But damn, we loved our session with the DOCTOR FISH.

"Doctor Fish" are minnow-sized fish called Garra rufa, relatives of the carp family. The practice of using them for "pedicures" comes from hot springs resorts in Turkey, apparently. They don't have teeth, but they use their lips to "nibble" at dead skin, leaving your feet nice and smooth.

I don't even know when I first heard of them, but when we were in China last year I started thinking about it, and decided I would try to experience them this year. So when we saw that Yunessen offered them, we were in!

At Yunessen -- the hot spring theme park in Hakone -- the service is offered in 2-hour stints with a break in the middle, apparently so the fish get a little hungry. When it opened, we got in the short line, had our wristbands scanned, and waited until we were "on deck".

First we went to social baths of fresh water and washed our feed and lower legs. Then we moved forward to a larger pool -- maybe 15 feet across -- and after the previous group left, we moved in and sat down.

Within seconds, the fish got curious. Our group of about 18 people included a group of teenage guys, one of whom yelled and kicked and splashed whenever he was touched by a fish. This may have been why the fish clustered on us, and especially Wil, like piranha on a carcass. Or something.

Nibble nibble -- more ticklish than painful. And it was giggly and silly and we smiled and laughed with a bunch of strangers. We had our feet in the fish pool for about 5 minutes, and then left, and washed our feet again at the end. A full treatment apparently would last 25 minutes or so.

Here in Washington state -- and in at least 13 other states and a few Canadian provinces -- Doctor Fish are illegal. What's interesting is that the reasons for the bans vary. In some, the ban is because they are unhygienic. In a spa, products need to be discarded or disinfected between clients -- but obviously you can't discard or disinfect a fish. In other places the ban is because it is potentially cruel to the fish -- they are often starved between treatments to make sure they nibble at the clients.

I'm more concerned about the cruelty factor than the hygiene factor, but we did see that the fish were fed between the two two-hour windows they are "open for business". So here's hoping they're happy nibbling away.

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