Say you’re in Japan and you realize your glasses have broken, your prescription might have changed or you simply want to switch up your spectacles! What do you do? Getting a new pair of glasses in Japan can be daunting, especially if you’re unsure about the language, but it need not be. This article breaks down the entire process so you can know what to expect, what your timeline will look like, what the process actually entails, and what the impact will be on your wallet!
Glasses are extremely important for those who need them, so it is best to prepare yourself as much as possible before venturing out to get a pair whilst you are in Japan, whether you live here as a resident or are just visiting!
Availability of Glasses in Japan
You may even have noticed that many people in Japan wear glasses… perhaps more so than in other countries. There are a few possible reasons for this. Firstly, people in Asia are more susceptible to myopia (as high as 70% according to some sources, as opposed to 30% in Western countries in Europe or North America or as low as 10% in some African countries) and other optical conditions. Perhaps it is also due to a large amount of time spent working or studying in front of screens.
Others simply wear glasses as a fashion statement or to protect their eyes from blue light or UV rays. Whatever the reasons, this also means that Japan is replete with spectacle stores, and the process of getting a pair is relatively stress-free and affordable. A phrase even exists in Japanese that means “glasses boy/girl” メガネくん or メガネっ娘 (pronounced ‘megane-kun’ and ‘meganekko’ respectively), which are often used as terms of endearment for people who wear spectacles.
1. The General Process of Buying Glasses in Japan
The general process is fairly simple and, compared with many other countries around the world, inexpensive. Many people seem to think that to get prescription glasses made in Japan, you must visit a special eye doctor. However, thankfully, that is not the case! Simply choose an optician (generally recognizable by the rows and stacks of glasses in the windows and on the shop floor), undertake a free eye examination to determine your prescription, usually conducted in the store itself, choose your glasses, and pay at the cashier! What’s more, it is not necessary to pay into national health insurance to have this done, making it an ideal option even for tourists. However, this also means that for residents who are paying into national insurance, glasses are not covered.
2. An Eye Exam in Japan
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Now for the fun part! Perhaps with eye tests you’ve had before, you may have been asked to look at a poster from a certain distance with lots of Roman alphabet letters on it. In Japan, these can sometimes be Japanese hiragana characters, but fear not if you don’t speak Japanese. Most opticians have an alternative version (being used more and more frequently as the default anyway) that consists of many differently sized circles, all with a cut somewhere along the circumference, kind of in the shape of the letter ‘C’. Every time the optician changes the image, simply state which direction the cut is facing. You can do this in English (most opticians will know this much), or if you want, try your hand at the Japanese! Here is a helpful guide:
Left 左 ‘hidari’
Right 右 ‘migi’
Up 上 ‘ue’
For any diagonal-facing cuts, just say two words in combination (with the left/right first). For example, up-right would be 右上, or ‘migi-ue’. And if you forget everything, just point! Most stores, however, especially well-known chains, should have at least one English-speaking attendant.
If you already have a prescription from your own optician in your home country or simply from another optician, just show it to someone at the store, and they should be able to make a pair based on that. They can probably even print a Japanese version for you.
If you do not necessarily want to have a completely new eye test, but have a pair of existing glasses that you want a prescriptive copy of in a new frame, most stores can also scan the contour of your existing pair to figure out your prescription and go from there. This system is usually accurate.
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Next, you may be asked to wear a pair of test glasses with removable lenses for each eye. The optician will guide you through looking at a number of items, asking which seems sharper or clearer. Often, this is a red and green circle side by side. If you feel that both objects seem just as sharp as each other… that is perfectly okay – just let the optician know.
One final test you may have to undergo is looking into a machine that shows an image of a balloon, car, house, or other similar objects that appear to be very far away. Focus on the image whilst the optician looks through the other end. You might also receive a puff of air into your eyes, and the doctor looks into them more closely, asking you to look left or right. This is all part of the normal eye test procedure.
3. Where to Go and How Much Will it Cost?
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As with many aspects of Japan, getting glasses made quickly and cheaply is a no-brainer here! Some of the ubiquitous chains offer top-brand, fashionable, on-trend looks alongside classic styles to pick and choose from at an affordable price. Here are two of the biggest top picks of brands available all over the country to pick up a great pair of new glasses without breaking the bank.
J!NS: This store is known for making high-quality but extremely affordable fashion and prescription glasses. Get yourself a new pair, including both lenses and the frame, for a total starting price of less than 5,000 yen! A true bargain. It will also take less than an hour from start to finish, so perfect for those even in a rush. Check out the general eyewear section for anti-blue light glasses or reading glasses. J!NS boasts a selection of over 1,000 frames at any time. Check out the store locator (Japanese only) for a branch near you: https://store-jp.jins.com/b/jins/.
Zoff: With over 160 branches across Japan, Zoff is known for its affordability and easy pricing scheme. Choose from frames and lenses from 5,000 yen (excluding tax) and have your new spectacles ready to go in just half an hour! Zoff always has the newest trends too. Find the nearest store to you (Japanese only) by visiting:
A big reason that getting glasses in Japan is so cheap is that the cost of the eye test is included. Also, a lot of the frame and lens fitting is done in-store. Corrective lenses in Japan are much less regulated than in some other countries, and competition between retail stores is fierce, which helps keep prices down.
If you prefer a glasses store that is not specifically geared to cheap frames, head to a brand or sleeker and upmarket store stocked with designer frames or simply any local glasses shop. Look out for signs that read メガネ (眼鏡), or ‘Megane’, the Japanese word for ‘glasses’ (literally meaning ‘speculum for the eyes’). These can, of course, get much more expensive, depending on the brand and style.
4. How Long Does It Take for You to Receive Your Glasses?
In most locations, particularly at the affordable chain stores or in department stores, you will be able to receive your new glasses on the same day, probably in about 30 minutes to an hour from when you first start the process. This also largely depends on how busy the store is that day.
However, if you have any specific or unusual requirements like astigmatism correction or a very powerful prescription, bear in mind you might not be able to receive your glasses on the day and will instead receive a phone call or email telling you when they are ready to be picked up. In these cases, payment may be required before or after you pick up the glasses. Additionally, more time may be needed if you choose a particular additional coating. More on that below.
5. Coatings for Lenses
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A great thing about getting glasses made in Japan is the availability of the latest technologies to protect both your spectacles and your eyes. For a small additional price, you can have different coatings and various lens types that will make your wearing experience all the more comfortable. This is particularly worth the extra spend if you wear your glasses regularly.
One example is choosing the blue-light cut glass, which filters blue light from your computer or phone screen. The glasses do not look any different other than a slight sheen of blue in the reflection of the lenses. Especially if you work at a computer a lot or use your mobile phone, these special lenses will keep your eyes from getting tired and you from getting a headache.
Another great addition is the anti-scratch coating. This minimizes the amount of tiny, small scratches to the surface of the glasses that usually just build up over time, making your glasses hopefully last a little longer! One thing to keep in mind if you choose to include this option is that you cannot expose your glasses to high temperatures, such as hot bathwater or even lots of warm steam in the shower, as this can impact the effectiveness of the anti-scratch coating.
Another special addition (although this is sometimes included anyway) is the UV light cut. This is particularly handy in Japan, where there are many hot or bright days to protect your eyes from the harmful rays. If you would rather just have a specific sunglasses add-on that you can clip to your frames, that is usually possible, too, depending on your preferred style.
6. Other Fun Things to Know About Buying Glasses in Japan
One very beneficial and unusual apparatus you can find at most glasses stores in Japan is the glasses cleaning machine that uses ultrasound, often by the main entrance. Simply take your glasses off, submerge the lenses in the small pool of water, flip the ON button, and the water will vibrate, releasing dirt and oil particles from the lenses of your spectacles. Once the ultrasonic bath stops vibrating, remove your glasses and gently clean the lenses with the special thin paper available. Voila! You will be able to see clearly for days.
Finally, when you buy glasses in Japan, they will also come delivered in a handy and sturdy glasses case, perfect for storing them when you are not wearing them.
So, what do you think? Is the process of getting glasses in Japan an easy one? Are you ready to try it for yourself? Pick a store and get to choosing those frames! There is always so much going on in Japan to see… make sure you’re seeing with the perfect pair of Japanese glasses fitted just for you!
Maia Hall // UK
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