The Nagasaki Fish “Doctors.”

Any amount of time spent in Japan will quickly have you learn that the Japanese are obsessed with health and personal hygiene. From taking dips in hot springs and frequenting local bath houses, to pursuing aesthetic treatments and practicing aromatherapy, the Japanese have a very perceptive sense of cleanliness and physical well-being. With that said, there are a few spa treatments in Japan that may make a person uneasy or hesitant to take part in, but one in particular was a must-do for us: the spa treatment that involves live fish nibbling on our flesh.

Although it’s been around for several years now, one of the strangest spa treatments in Japan involves placing your hands and/or feet into a pool containing tiny flesh eating fish known as a doctor fish. These flesh-eating species have a taste for dead human skin. Grossed out yet? Let’s take a moment to look at these critters and what they are and where they’re from:

The doctor fish actually refer to a species of fish known to scientists as Garra rufa. Also called the reddish log sucker, it is known as the nibble fish or kangal fish. Doctor fish are native to the rivers of the Middle East, particularly Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, living and breeding in the pools of the rivers and hot springs. Although the latter three aren’t really tourist destinations, doctor fish have been bred at Turkish spas for decades. Modernly, they have been integrated as a spa treatment, where they feed on the skin of patients suffering from a variety of skin ailments, most notably psoriasis, that come to have their problem areas picked cleaned by the hungry doctor fish. (Keep in mind that these fish are not meant as a curative treatment). Doctor fish will pick at dead and affected areas of the skin, which allows the healthy skin to grow in its place.

Since the Japanese are always keen to discover the next great thing, there has been explosion of doctor fish spas popping up around Japan in recent years. On average, a 15-minute all you can eat feast (for the fish, not for you) costs around 3000 yen/person ($25-30 US) or only 500 yen/person ($5 US) for a 5-minute nibble.

I know what you’re thinking now… how do I get me some of those fish?? Well don’t get to excited. I haven’t look very deeply into it but so far I have read that “Turkish law prevents the commercial exploitation of the fish due to concerns of overharvesting for export.” Apparently, aquarium conditions are also unsuitable for doctor fish as “they’ll only feast on human flesh when they’re in a natural enclosure.”

Is it time for you to see the doctors now?? It doesn’t hurt, but it does tickle! 🙂

Fish Spa time!
Fish Spa time!
View of the spas.
View of the spas.
Garra Rufa, "Doctor Fish"
Garra Rufa, “Doctor Fish”
Here fishy fishy!!
Here fishy fishy!!
Us at the fish spa :)
Us at the fish spa 🙂
Getting our feet cleaned.
Getting our feet cleaned.
Up close look at the fish suckers!
Up close look at the fish suckers!
Steve letting the doctor fish clean his hand too!
Steve letting the doctor fish clean his hand too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lindsay View All →

Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!

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