What is the meaning of Mimikaki in Japanese?

Have you heard the word “Mimikaki”? If you live in Japan then you have surely come across the ear-cleaning-scoop-things “Mimikaki [耳かき] used for the horrifying practice of “Mimi souji [耳そうじ]”.

The difference between Japan and most western cultures is the hygienic practice of cleaning one’s ears. Japanese love to clean their ears and cleaning a child’s ear is a sacred moment akin to breast-feeding. While in the west most people use cloth, cotton swabs, or regular rinsing, the Japanese have a specific tool most people use called “Mimikaki (耳かき)”. “Mimikaki” may appear interesting to foreigners, but they can be both comfortable and relaxing.

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What is “Mimikaki”?

“Mimikaki [耳かき]” is an ear pick that has a small scoop on one end to clean the ear. “Mimi耳(みみ)” is “Ear,” and “Kaku掻(か)く (kaku)”is “to scratch, scoop, scrape” — hence “Mimikaki耳掻き (mimikaki)”. A traditional “Mimikaki耳かき” is made of bamboo and has a down puff on the other end to give the ear a final dust-off. The ear pick is more common in East Asia since Asians tend to have dry ear wax while other ethnicities have wet ear wax.

In Japan, we have a custom of mothers cleaning their children’s ears. The child would lay their head on their mother’s “Hizamakuraひざまくら (lap pillow)” and the mother would scoop away. Since after many Japanese grow up, this “Hizamakura” is considered as one of the expressions of affection in a way, in place of a hug or a kiss. Some couple uses this as one of the expressions of affection in Japan.

Origins and Culture of “Mimikaki”

Ear cleaners have been around for over 1000 years in Europe and Asia both, but in Asia, these were typically made of bamboo with a sharp point, curved upward scraping. In Japan, there is a strong cultural aspect of “Mimikaki” that starts with the mother setting her children in her lap and regularly cleaning their ears. This type of nurturing creates an important physical bond between parent and child. There are even relaxation parlors in Japan, where a customer can spend 30 minutes or an hour to have their ears cleaned by a woman dressed in kimono to relive these memories.

The first thing that surprises foreigners when they come to Japan is that the number and opportunities of Japanese “Mimikaki [Ear cleaning] are numerous. Japanese people clean their ears more often at a level more like “heredity” than “tradition”. There may be several reasons for the difference between frequent and non-frequent ear cleaning.

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Differences of tools used for Ear cleaning

There is dry and wet earwax, and the latter wet earwax accounts for 90% of people. It’s no wonder people in the world wonder, “What is dry and lumpy earwax?”

First, Japanese ear wax is not the same as other countries’ ear wax. In East Asians (and Native Americans), a dry, gray type of ear wax is the most common, whereas, on the other side of the world – Europe/Africa, you’ll find we have the most orange gunk. It’s something to do with ancient climates.

In addition to Japan, people in East Asia and India, where there are many people with dry earwax, mainly use stick-shaped tools to clean their ears. The mainstream of ear cleaning tools in the world is “cotton swabs”. Also other than this cotton swab, you can also use a dropper, suck it up with a candle, or use a chemical to flush it out. However, it is a fact that many people have the feeling that “something is not refreshing” with these methods.

In Japan, according to experts, the frequency of earpicks should be about once a month. In that case, we recommend the old-fashioned bamboo earpicks, which are also sold at 100-yen shops instead of cotton swabs. Bamboo is elastic and not sharp, so it is a good tool to put in your ears.

“Mimikaki” as a souvenir

Japanese earpicks come in all shapes and sizes that go beyond the concept of just a sanitary tool. If you search for images, you will find all types, including those with built-in LEDs, those with anime characters, those that pursue fashion, and those that are likely to be mistaken for tools that dentists use for treatment. It seems to be a surprise. Some types of earpicks with multiple spoons and wires emphasize the point of “how much earwax can be removed”. It is no longer known to the world that earpicks are no longer used only when “itching ears and hearing are poor”, but as a part of life that should be used for refreshment and healing.

Varieties of “Mimikaki”

There are several types of mimikaki available in Asia and some that have recently been developed in Japan are quite high quality. A few of the more common types include:

The original “Mimikaki” in Asia has been in use for over 1,000 years if not much longer. Essentially a stick that has been smoothed out, these will eventually crack, and scratch so will need to be replaced regularly. These can still be purchased today but are being replaced by more modern types.

This type is essentially the same shape as the bamboo but is slightly cheaper and will not crack as easily. These are the cheapest type for a reason and can still scratch the ear if not used carefully.

Metal wire:
In Japan “Mimikaki” have continually evolved in shape from traditional scoop shape designs to the latest styles implementing multiple wire designs in cylinders or multiple prongs. These mimikaki are now more of a cross over between a cleaning and massage good and can be quite enjoyable to use. The ends are designed to fit multiple ear shapes perfectly. Metal wire mimikaki are safer to use than standard bamboo mimikaki as all the edges are smooth and rounded.

Using “Mimikaki” in Japan

Cleaning the ear is a very delicate process and should always be done carefully. This is especially true if using the traditional bamboo or plastic mimikaki that can have rougher edges. With the metal mimikaki, what you want to do is lightly scrape along the edges of the ear to clean out the wax. There is no need to apply pressure and be careful not to go too far into the ear canal.

One advantage of the mimikaki over something like a cotton swab is that you will not push the wax farther inside the ear as these designs are thinner. Mimikaki can be used in multiple places, but many prefer to use it in the bath or shower for privacy. In Japan, some families will clean the ears in the living room as well while chatting or watching television. It is typically best to avoid using it in public places, but you may occasionally see someone using it in the office in Japan. My boss also sometimes does “Mimikaki” at his desk by himself.

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Great Tips you need to know about “Mimikaki” in Japan

“Mimikaki” as a family care

It is very common for mothers to clean their children’s ears in Japan, and the act of “cleaning their ears” is also part of the kinship between parents and children and grandparents and grandchildren. Some women will clean their ears for their lover and her husband even after they grow up. Of course, as in the major countries of the world, Japanese otolaryngologists can also clean your ears as a medical practice.

However, Japanese people who have had their families clean their ears since they were little are not very familiar with having a doctor clean their ears. One of the reasons the world is surprised is that ear cleaning is not limited to medical practice in Japan.

Purchasing “Mimikaki”

“Mimikaki” can be purchased almost anywhere, from convenience stores to department stores so you should have no trouble finding one if you ask. Due to the interesting varieties, available mimikaki are now quite popular as gifts or souvenirs as well. If you want to see the largest variety of mimikaki in one place Tokyu Hands is the place to visit. Tokyu Hands will have the “Nonoji” varieties of mimikaki that can be seen in the pictures in this article. The “Nonoji” brand is trusted in Japan and has sold over 3.5 million metal mimikaki over the past 10 years.

There are now even more reasons to use metal “Mimikaki” over other ear cleaning methods as the brand Nonoji (ののじ) continues to release interesting types and designs of mimikaki. You can find this Nonoji mimikaki in many fashionable varieties, including pocket-size models, flashlights, favorite characters, and more. The price can be around JPY 2,000, but these types of “Mimikaki” will last a lifetime if taken care of properly.

“Mimikaki” as a customer service

What makes people around the world strange is that there are many shops in Japan that offer earpicks as customer service! The purpose is not medical facilities such as otolaryngology but “Relaxation” or “Beauty”. In Japan, there are shops mainly in the city center, and they are called “Earpick beauty salons”, and “Ear beauty salons”, etc. There are two types of shops, and in shops that mainly focus on “Cosmetology and beauty treatments,” earpicks and cotton swabs soaked in the special lotion are used, and the treatment is performed while looking inside the ears with a scope or the like. The other is a “knee-shaped” shop, which mainly focuses on relaxation.

There are many “Ear cleaning-shops” in Tokyo, Akihabara, etc., where you can also receive ear massage and shoulder massage together and another shop can clean your ears while looking at them as an esthetician. There is also a service where you can drink tea in advance. In addition to earpicks, massages for shoulders, head, back, etc. are also included as a set, and there are many courses such as 30 to 180 minutes course, sole course, eye strain course, etc. It pays a fee of about 3,000 yen for 30 minutes to clean their ears.

Of course, it is not limited to those for men, but there are also those that are offered as an optional service at barbershops and those that are offered as “ear esthetics” with facial and shoulder massage. If you come to Japan, you should go and experience a great “Mimikaki” shop. You must be feeling more relaxed!!


After all, we can wrap this article into the following points:

  • “Mimikaki [耳かき]” is Ear picking in Japanese and same as “Mimi souji [耳そうじ]”and Compared to other countries, Japanese more often do “Mimikaki”.
  • In Japan there is a strong cultural aspect of “Mimikaki” that starts with the mother setting her children in her lap and regularly cleaning their ears.
  • There are several types of “Mimikaki” tools in Japan, and main are “Bamboo”, “Plastic” and “Metal”, and we can buy them at anywhere like conveniencestore.
  • Interesting varieties available “Mimikaki” are now quite popular as gifts or souvenirs and most famous one is “Nonoji” Mimikaki.
  • There are many shops in Japan that offer earpicks as a customer service! And it is for “Relaxation” or “Beauty”. Also receive ear massage and shoulder massage together and other shop can clean your ears while looking at them as an esthetician.


I am Yuri. I have worked for several companies, involved in assisting foreigners and teaching Japanese. I have also worked in Vietnam, teaching Japanese. I would like to help students abroad and teach Japanese culture. My hobbies are traveling abroad and sports, like tennis. Following excitement and discovering new things inspires me a lot. My joy in life is to help people overseas so that I can pass on the charm of Japanese culture.