And I think I liked it.
I pushed my way through the main hall entrance doors and began walking up aisles of vendors showcasing the latest in merchandise straight from Japan. Breezing past booth after booth selling anime, cosplay goods and fashion items – something caught my eye and I stopped dead in my tracks.
I stood in front of a booth designed to look like the inside of a traditional Japanese style tatami room. Sitting seiza-style on the straw mats were two young women adorned in kimonos, each one attending to a man laying on his side donning a giant white VR headset. Surrounded by onlookers snapping photos, each man had their heads resting on a pillow, appearing oblivious to the surrounding crowd. Something about this experience looked surprisingly intimate, unlike anything i’ve seen before. Then a representative at the booth asked if i’d like to try the experience myself – sure why not.
This was the booth of Nagomi’s Earcleaning VR at the Anime Expo, North America’s largest anime and manga convention held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. And just like the name leads on, this was an ear cleaning VR experience intended to be as intimate as it was relaxing for the user. And for me, weird, but surprisingly pleasant.
Believe it or not, there are many in Japan that think ear cleaning, or mimikaki as its called in Japanese, is an affectionate activity you partake in with someone close to you. But like some things in Japanese culture, mimikaki is often festishized. Now you can expect to find mimikaki services available in your local Japanese massage parlor or grooming service establishment.
After a short wait in line, it was finally my turn for some virtual mimikaki.
I asked if I needed to remove my shoes, like any polite Japanese person would ask before entering a tatami mat room – it wasn’t necessary. I felt hesitant at first, but then proceeded to kneel down in front of my host in the floral kimono dress who was already waiting patiently to begin.
Settled in, my host began to recite the storyline of my character going into Nagomi’s Earcleaning VR experience. OK i’ll play along.
It went something along the lines of in a land not so far away, Japan, i’ve traveled to a rural town where Nagomi, my cousin, lives. Having not seen her in quite some time, i’m taken back by how mature she’s become. After a long night of talking, I begin to get so tired I can barely stand. Nagomi comes up with a great idea – why not lay down so she can clean my ear.
Now that we got the story out of the way, my host begins to place the VR headset and noise cancelling headphones on my head. She softly asks that I wait for the VR experience to begin before lying down.
The experience starts and I find myself transported to a traditional Japanese style room. At the opposite side of the room I can see two open sliding doors, peering into a bamboo garden. The only thing i’m thinking about is how damn narrow the field-of-view on this headset is compared to my HTC Vive. Then my cousin Nagomi appears.
She knows i’m tired and asks me to stretch my legs and lie down. I begin to extend my physical body and lower my head towards what I assume is a pillow but in VR is actually Nagomi’s lap. “Well? Does that feel good?” Nagomi asks. Now completely horizontal, knowing there is a crowd all staring at me in reality, I gaze out towards the bamboo garden.
Whether it’s the 3D audio of Nagomi whispering in my left ear or the gentle scratching noise of her virtually cleaning my ear, I could see how this auditory stimulus can trigger low-grade euphoria and relaxation in some (see: ASMR). Out of curiosity, I turned my head to look up from her lap and found myself staring directly at a surprised Nagomi looking down back me. She asked if everything was alright and if she should continue – I immediately turned my head and focused my gaze back to the garden.
That was weird.
At one point, Nagomi asks if i’m staying with her for the night, followed by “why don’t we sleep together, like we used to?”
The VR experience was short and concludes with Nagomi volunteering to clean my ears out next time before it “gets all clogged up”. Thanks Nagomi.
I’ve seen my fair share of unique VR demos at expos, from going on an acid trip with a haptic vest to being strapped in a harness with fans blowing in your face as you virtually fly over mountain tops. But Nagomi’s Earcleaning VR was its own unique experience that I probably won’t ever forget.
Now you too can have an anime girl clean your ears. Eisys Inc. is responsible for the VR app experience and if you’d like to try it in the privacy of your own home, an English version is available to download for free on both iOS and Android devices.
Yes, getting your ears cleaned in VR is weird, but we still want to hear from you. Let us know if you hated it or loved it.
Image Credit: Eisys & VRScout