【 耳かき・mimikaki 】ear pick, ear scoop
耳かき is an ear pick that has a small scoop on one end to clean the ear. 耳(みみ) (mimi) is “ear,” and 掻(か)く (kaku) is “to scratch, scoop, scrape” — hence 耳掻き (mimikaki). A traditional 耳かき is made of bamboo and has a down puff on the other end to give the ear a final dust-off.
The ear pick seems to be more common in East Asia since Asians tend to have dry ear wax while other ethnicities have wet ear wax. Did you know that which type you get depends on a gene?
Here are two enlightening articles that go into depth about all things ear wax and 耳かき:
Yes, in Japan, we have a custom of mothers cleaning their children’s ear. The child would lay their head on their mother’s 膝(ひざ)まくら (hizamakura, “lap pillow”) and the mother would scoop away. Since this is how many Japanese grow up, this may be why 膝まくら is associated with affection, in a way, in place of a hug or a kiss.
That said, according to health professionals, we shouldn’t be poking things in our ear, 耳かき nor 綿棒 (めんぼう) cotton swabs, because the ear is a self-cleaning mechanism. We’ll have to put away our 耳かき then.