Everyone likes a cool rock, and as they say, if you don’t like cool rocks then you ain’t no friend of mine. But while most places cherish cool rocks in classical geology museums, this place in Japan has a different approach.
Just a two hours drive northwest of Tokyo, you can find one of the world’s most entertaining and quirky museums. It’s called the Chinsekikan — Japanese for ‘hall of curious rocks’, and inside, visitors can find more than 1,700 rocks that look peculiar in more than one way, 900 of which resemble faces. Among some of the celebrities housed at this Madame Tussaud’s for minerals are E.T., Elvis Presley, and, of course, Jesus Christ.
A museum where nature is the only artist
Humans have a tendency to see patterns in things — it’s how our brain works and how we simplify and process the mind-boggling amount of visual data that’s available to use every day. Sometimes, though, our brain takes this to the extreme. Sometimes, we have a tendency to perceive a specific image or object as a recognizable pattern.
It’s called pareidolia, and we’ve probably all experienced it at some point. Whether it’s seeing a pattern that doesn’t exist on a tile floor or interpreting a socket or coat hanger as a smiley face, we tend to ‘see’ patterns in things. That’s why, for instance, some people claim to see faces or portals on the surface of Mars.
Face pareidolia is one of the most common manifestations of this phenomenon, but instead of dismissing it as a random glitch in our brains, why not celebrate it and embrace the quirkiness?
This one-of-a-kind museum was founded by Shozo Hayama who has collected strange-shaped, unaltered rocks for fifty years. Since Hayama passed away in 2010, the museum has been run by Yoshiko Hayama, the founder’s wife.
Besides the rocks that resemble real and fictional celebrities, among them Japanese sensation Donkey Kong, Mickey Mouse, Nemo the clownfish, or the mercurial Boris Yeltsin, there are also more general human face-resembling rocks such as the ‘chorus rocks’ featured below.
The Chinsekikan museum has been featured on many popular Japanese TV shows. Every rock on display from the collection is completely unaltered keeping true to Shozo Hayama’s legacy — that nature is the only artist.
It’s not the most popular attraction in Japan, but it’s a good place to spend some time admiring the human portraits drawn by mother nature; or is it our brain’s tendency to overinterpret things?
Either way, the Rock Face Museum (or the Hall of Curious Rocks) hosts over one thousand rocks. Hayama wasn’t expecting that much when he started the museum, but soon enough, the wave of publicity made the museum an unlikely attraction in a country that’s already riddled with attractions.
Visitors are welcome to come and name rocks, and indeed, many of the rocks have been christened by the visitors. You can also donate your face-like rocks to the museum — just if you needed an excuse to travel to Japan. Sorry honey, I have to donate my rock to the museum!
Still, some of the celebrity-lookalike rocks are more convincing than others.
Geologically speaking, the anthropomorphic features you see etched on the rocks are due to weathering of certain minerals and imperfections. Weathering and cracking usually occur along a plane of weakness or a sedimentary layer. Many of the rocks featured in this article, for instance, seem weathered by flowing water.
Some minerals are more susceptible to sculpting by natural phenomena than others. Quartz, for instance, is much less likely to weather than micas.
As for what compelled the founder of the museum to amass such a collection, it’s unclear whether Shozo Hayama had some degree of pareidolia or whether he simply thought it was a cool idea. Either way, we’re pretty glad he did it — and aside from the museum itself, the exhibit also sheds some light on this under-discussed phenomenon.
A recent study suggests an anomalous interplay between the brain’s frontal cortex and posterior visual cortex is what leads some people to see faces in objects more often than others. But it is totally normal to notice faces in rocks or other objects because our brains are hard-wired to spot such patterns.
Chinsekika definitely looks fun to visit and a welcomed breath of fresh air if you enjoy visiting more traditional geological museums.