The Japan Snake Center isn’t really a haikyo, or it shouldn’t be. An active facility with a rather steep 1000 yen entry fee, some of Japan’s foremost experts on snakes come here to work. They hold bring-your-snake-day pet contests and open lectures on measures dealing with Japan’s poisonous snake, the mamushi. Not surprisingly, it’s also a research centre for snake venom and employees give live talks about various serpent species.
Sounds like a cool day out, no? It certainly wasn’t bad at all and there were no shortage of live snakes to view, but rotting away alongside the active facilities were several sheds of a sort. Wooden and splintering, yet strangely blending into the background of the institute. If you’re not there looking for them, you’d probably just walk right past.
But we were, of course. Intrepid explorers bent on finding ourselves an abandoned shack of rotting snake carcasses. Yes, that’s my hobby these days…
DIsappointed we were not. Surreptitiously slipping away from the main group who had gone to watch some poor snake specimen milked dry of its venom, we hurried through the overgrown grass towards the rear of the complex. It had to be the one – a building old and weathered, and looking distinctly forlorn. Reminiscent of the Doctor’s Shack itself.
Bingo! We were in, sliding the old wooden door shut behind us. It was pretty cramped inside, but what lay before us was a world away from the enthusiastic man showing snakes to the tour group. Here, a dusty collection of glass containers, each filled with the sickening sight of hundreds of slimy bodies, all tied together in a mass orgy of colours. Magnificent. But…damn, what the hell..?
The gleeful child inside me was squirming in delight at the bizarre room that lay before u, but the adult in me was quite disgusted.
What on earth did they use all these snakes for? And why leave them here, preserved in liquids? Some kind of warped, mass burial.
Glinting, a small beaker caught my eye. The pink, decapitated head of one unfortunate victim.
Next to it, a set of jaws with an impressive set of fangs, cleanly polished and well kept by the glass box around it.
The room was also full of scientific equipment and curious specimens, oddly far more interesting than the ones displayed in the museum outside. These haphazard beakers, covered in a layer of grime from many years past, captivated me. A sterilisation box that looked like a reinforced microwave, test-tubes sitting unwashed in a sink and a microscope perched atop a darkened cabinet, glowing in the late afternoon light. It was certain research had gone on here, at least in the past. I couldn’t imagine it was used anymore though – perhaps they moved to the newer building? But then why leave this room as it was?
If it were possible, the sight in the adjoining room was even more terrible. A room full of huge, colourful plastic boxes. They wouldn’t have looked out of place in a children’s storage room, but upon peeking into the crates we were knocked back by an odour most foul.
It made the snakes stuffed into beakers and bottles seem almost gracefully preserved. Inside the coloured boxes were hundreds of serpent carcasses, all carelessly disposed of and left to rot. And by god, festering. The smell was overpowering – I could barely stand still to shoot a picture at all. Clutching the lid by the tips of my fingers though, I managed to get a few shots. It looked like there had once been tortoises stored there too, but now all that remained were empty husks. Most of the boxes were like this, piled high with snake skins and bodies, some kept in a dark, gooey liquid that smelt more putrid than the dry containers.
I didn’t linger for long and retreated back to the main room. Suddenly, a new appreciation for snakes in jars took hold of me. They don’t smell! …At least not half as bad as those boxes.
Inside the largest jar was a python, coiled up in what looked to be a deep slumber. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the telltale lifeless blue eye, I wouldn’t have been able to tell otherwise. Fresh as the day it died. Or was killed..?
Another curious sight to behold was the long, wormlike creature held in a measuring tube. It reminded me more of a vicious stomach parasite or an alien creature that liked to burrow… Fascinating. But I couldn’t help wonder what would happen in an earthquake, as the tube was simply left stacked atop the pile of abandoned boxes. It was almost as it it were fresh, but it couldn’t be, judging by the grime on it.
Leaving the shack, we headed down the small hill towards another area of the centre. We’d heard of a second haikyo here – a cave, filled with old dinosaur exhibits. A rusty gate invited us toward it, squeaking slightly as we nipped inside. Sure enough, there was the King of the Dinosaurs itself, the Tyrannosaurus Rex. I thought he was looking rather grand, so I went vintage in the photo.
The cave was pitch black. After walking over stacks of old souvenirs, we had to stop. Before us, reflecting our torchlight, was a miniature lake. It stretched far back into the complex, down a tunnel I agonisingly wanted to explore. Evidently the place had flooded, as all the exhibits were submerged, including an old ice cream kiosk – Lady Borden Ice Cream. It looked like it could have been fun back in the day, but now, without a pair of waders at least, no-one is going to get very far. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few rogue water snakes were living in there…
With my torchlight, this was the best I could manage. Hope it gives an idea of what it was like.
After browsing the real exhibits for a while, we strolled back outside the entrance. It had been a grand day out. Two unusual haikyo and a collection of bizarre creatures to behold. I reckon it would merit a return visit. Perhaps with those waders I used when exploring the Paris Catacombs…
But that was not all! To round off the day in style, just as I walked out the door of the gift shop, this tiny little Japanese treefrog plopped down in front of me. Looking particularly shaken, no doubt from being surrounded by his mortal enemies, I got the perfect chance to use my new macro lens, the Panasonic 45mm.
I couldn’t have asked for a better send-off, so I gladly returned the favour and took the little froggie to a nice, safe tree outside the malodourous, snake-infested complex. Ahh.