ALEX CHADWICK, host:
Madeleine, I'm so pleased you're back from your vacation for this next piece.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
OK, Alex, what would it take to get you to stick your feet in a tank of fish that feed on human flesh?
CHADWICK: I just plain wouldn't do it.
BRAND: You wouldn't do it. Well, actually, I did do it when I was in Japan last year. And let me tell you; actually, let's let reporter Daniele Anastasion tell you. She went and visited a salon in Alexandria, Virginia.
Mr. JOHN HO (Husband of Owner, Yvonne Salon): You can hop in right there, if you want to. Take off your slippers...
Ms. BARBARA CAMPBELL (Salon Customer): OK.
DANIELE ANASTASION: Barbara Campbell is about to become dinner for 200 fish. At Yvonne Salon, hundreds of tiny carp swim in a holding tank, waiting to suck dead skin off customers' feet.
Mr. HO: Step right in.
Ms. CAMPBELL: Which ones are the hungriest? That's what I want to know.
ANASTASION: She dunks her legs into the water as 200 tiny carp swarm her feet.
Ms. CAMPBELL: Isn't that the strangest thing? And it looks like there's more on my left feet than it is on my right, doesn't it?
ANASTASION: Known as Garra rufa, the inch-long fish originated in hot springs in Turkey. It's there that they developed an appetite for the only food around - human flesh. Leah Le works at the Yvonne Salon.
Ms. LEAH LE (Employee, Yvonne Salon): It doesn't have any teeth. It has powerful jaws that just, sort of, suck it. It kisses your skin, but more it actually just suck up your dry skin.
ANASTASION: Britney Hickson (ph) is having her first fish pedicure.
Ms. BRITNEY HICKSON (Salon Customer): It feels really weird. Oh my gosh, like, how do you even put words to this?
Ms. CAMPBELL: It's like they're picking, pick, pick, pick.
Ms. HICKSON: Oh my gosh. I can't believe there are fish eating my feet.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ANASTASION: They're known as doctor fish and in Asia, they're used to treat skin problems like psoriasis. Salon owner Yvonne Le first read about it on the Internet, and traveled to China to get a full body treatment.
Ms. YVONEE LE (Salon Owner): I lay down in the pool for 40 minutes, and I come out, my skin so beautiful, smooth, like maybe I'm younger again, like 13, 14 years.
ANASTASION: $40,000 and 10,000 fish later, Yvonne and her husband, John, brought doctor fish to the United States. Over 6,000 customers have already tried it.
Mr. HO: Business is booming. We have, like, tripled our volumes. At the beginning, it wasn't like that. I was begging people to go in, in the beginning. But when, you know, it just went haywire. Everybody want to do it.
ANASTASION: 27-year old Kelly Jackson is a recent convert.
Ms. KELLY JACKSON (Salon Customer): It's better than them having to scrub at your feet to get everything off, so I was, like, it's all organic, let me try it. So I did. I absolutely loved it because, I'm telling you, your feet never feel so clean. It was amazing.
ANASTASION: But the $40,000 fish are a gamble because they are difficult to maintain. Owner John Ho says he wakes up in the middle of the night just to check on them.
Mr. HO: There's a lot of risk in taking care of the fish. You got to give them constantly warm water. If water drop below 70 degree, they'll die.
ANASTASION: The fish stay well fed on a steady supply of human skin. Over the last few months, Leah Le has watched them double in size.
Ms. LE: When we first had them, they were tiny. You could feel just like little nibbling. Now it's like you can feel like the sucking, the real sucking, it's just more powerful. And it's a big difference in experience because of the size of the fishes.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. HO: I mean, when you go in, you know, you just got to laugh. I mean, I have people laugh until their tears comes out. I don't think money can pay for that. It's priceless.
Ms. HICKSON: Oh my God! It tickles, kind of. Feels so weird.
ANASTASION: And how do the fish feel about it? Yvonne Le.
Ms. YVONEE LE: I really love my fish. And, you know, I think the fish love me, too. And I really appreciate my customers to come here to feed my fish for me.
ANASTASION: For NPR News, I'm Daniele Anastasion.
Ms. YVONEE LE: Thank you for feeding my fish.
BRAND: Alex, get that horrified look off your face. Day to Day is a production of NPR News, with contributions from Slate.com. I'm Madeleine Brand.
CHADWICK: And I'm Alex Chadwick.
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