The Chichibu Chinsekikan, or the Hall of Curious Stones, is a privately owned museum in Chichibu famous for its peculiar inventory. Its main attractions are jinmen-seki, stones that naturally look like faces.
On the second floor are glass cases full of stones resembling, well, pretty much everything. There are stones that take on features of pop culture icons such as Jack Sparrow, Elvis Presley, and even Donkey Kong. Also among the collection are a myriad of stones that resemble Japanese celebrities, politicians, and anime characters. Some are more complex than just faces, forming silhouettes of ducks and sheep, one resembles the Grand Canyon, another, the forest of Guilin. It’s a strange fusion of geology and outsider art, sure to give visitors giggles and chuckles.
The founder of the Chinsekikan, Shōji Hayama, originally collected locally produced stones to sell in Tokyo. However, after deciding that some of the more curious stones should stay in Chichibu, he began to accumulate a collection.
Initially, his collection was mostly comprised of rocks shaped like mountain ranges and islands. One day, a relative sent him a bizarre black stone with three fossilized cowrie shells attached to it, forming a facial pareidolia. That stone changed his life forever.
This face allegedly appeared in Hayama’s dreams one night, telling him to help it make more friends. More than a thousand jinmenseki eventually came into his possession, all of them naturally formed.
When he opened the museum in 1990, Hayama wasn’t expecting much feedback, but it soon gained publicity as word of mouth circulated. The museum was also promoted internationally on TV and the internet.
Hayama passed away in 2010 at the age of 89. His daughter, Yoshiko, took over curatorship of the Chinsekikan after his passing. Today, there are over 1,700 stones in the collection on display, and more are stored inside, patiently waiting to be “identified.”
Many of the stones have been given names by visitors and they are welcomed to christen the unnamed stones, or bring their own jinmenseki to donate to the museum.
Know Before You Go
The Chinsekikan is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Tuesdays. Entry is 400 yen for adults. The curator lives and runs a sushi restaurant next door, so if the museum’s entrance is closed, simply call her using the numbers indicated on the door and she will come shortly and give you a tour through the hall.