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That Whole Japanese Eyeball Licking Thing Never Really Happened

Never fear. We are not next to suffer from the eyeball licking craze, because that craze never actually existed

A few months ago, the internet was abuzz with a new, dangerous craze sweeping Japan: eyeball licking.

The Telegraph wrote that a “craze for “eyeball licking” among Japanese schoolchildren is reportedly causing a surge in eye-related infections.” ABC’s headline feared “are we next?!” Their story described a practice in which “corrupted youths slide their bacteria-laden tongues across the eyeballs of their willing victims.” CBS said that the trend could cause people to go blind. 

Well, it’s a good thing that the eyeball licking scare of 2013 was too weird to be true. The trend never happened. It turns out that the story was a case of media hype combined with mistranslations. Mark Schreiber, over at Number 1 Shimbun, explains where the story came from:

The source wasn’t that difficult to find. An article in Japanese titled “Shogakusei ni gankyuname hentai purei ga dairyuukou” (The perverted play of eyeball-licking is a hit among primary schoolers) appeared on Friday, June 7 on Bucchi News, a site for subculture enthusiasts.

The story’s sole informant was “Y,” an anonymous teacher at a primary school in Tokyo, who revealed how he had traced an epidemic of pink eye at his school to “hentai (perverted) play” in the form of rampant eyeball licking among students. Notably lacking in attribution and details, the story had all the trappings of an urban legend.

It turns out that Bucchi News isn’t exactly a reliable news site. They’re published by Core Magazine, whose company was raided by police in April and who were forced to shut down several of their magazines. A former Core Magazine editor was the first person arrested in Japan under their new child pornography ban. The story was picked up by other sites, cherry-picked for details, and grew to outsized proportions in the wilds of the internet.

Schreiber called a few professional organizations in Japan, including two ophthalmological associations to see if they had heard of the horrid spread of disease by eyeball licking. None of them had.

So, never fear. We are not next to suffer from the eyeball licking craze, because that craze never actually existed.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Sneak Peek: Medical Marvels and Historical Oddities from the Collections
All Those Hours Inside Could Make You Nearsighted

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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