“Japanese craze for eyeball licking leads to rise in infections,” screamed the headline on a Telegraph article by Tokyo correspondent, Danielle Demetriou. There was even more to it than that I soon learned as I scanned my eyes across the lede to read that “A craze for "eyeball licking" among Japanese schoolchildren is reportedly causing a surge in eye-related infections.” School kids were getting their kicks from licking each other’s eyeballs! I thought I had seen it all.
That is until I read a story by journalist, Mark Schreiber in the Number 1 Shimbun. Schreiber lifts the lid on this eyeball-licking story that has been making its way into publications across the West to discover there is a lot less to it than meets the eye. The Tokyo-based scribe notes that “it was not especially difficult to at least cast doubts on the sweeping claim that large numbers of Japanese adolescents were suffering from an epidemic of tongue-induced pink eye.”
I don’t know how the Telegraph verified its story but it looks like Schreiber, as urban myth-buster, pulled some pretty sophisticated tools out of his reporter's bag. One was a communications device of some sort (perhaps a telephone), which he used to contact a couple of Japanese ophthalmological associations, a school clinicians’ organization and other medical professionals. “None of them had the faintest idea of what I was talking about,” Schreiber says, which leads me to believe there may not be a lick of truth to the Telegraph’s tale.
(Portions of this post have appeared in related MediaBugs reports filed by JT Cassidy)
If you want a real eye-opener, take a look at "Lick This!" by Mark Schreiber and read how the tale of a fake fad made in Japan made its way into online publications like MNT as well as the pages of newspapers, magazines, and more all around the world.
Also see: "In the Public Eye" on Snopes.com
Related MediaBugs reports:
Eye Network Lacks Nose for Fishy Stories (CBS News); Calling Out the Daily Caller (The Daily Caller); Code Brown (Medical News Today); Gawk at This! (Gawker); Not a Thing (The San Francisco Chronicle); Less Than Meets the Eye (The Guardian); A Blind Eye to the Truth (Huffington Post); Falling for a Fake Story... (The Washington Times)