Just a two hours drive northwest of Tokyo, you can find one of the world’s most entertaining 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 some 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.
Where nature is the only artist
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 late 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.
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. Quarts, for instance, is much less likely to weather than micas.
As for what compelled the founder of the museum to amass such a collection, Shozo Hayama likely had some degree of pareidolia, which is the tendency to perceive human traits where none actually exist. It’s what causes some people to claim there are pyramids on Mars shaped like a human face or to see Jesus in pieces of toast or sections of timber. 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.
Enjoyed this article? Join 40,000+ subscribers to the ZME Science newsletter. Subscribe now!