Tag Archives: Glasses

I Went to Japan’s Magical Kingdom of Eyeglasses

I’ve worn glasses since I was four years old…30 years. As I write this, I’m wearing what is probably the best pair I’ve ever owned. They cost me about $50 and the eye exam was free.

How did I pay 1/10th of what some of you are paying? I went to Zoff, an outstanding eyeglasses store that’s omnipresent in Japan and rapidly expanding throughout Asia.

I went in, sat down right away with an extremely polite young man, and looked into a machine I’ve never seen before in America. It showed a small picture and gave an instant estimate of my prescription. The employee, who was little more than 20, took me through just a couple standard “is this lens better?” questions and then produced tester glasses for me to try.

His estimates were dead on, and I saw beautifully. In a couple of days, I picked up my new glasses (along with a pair of prescription sunglasses I also ordered). I paid about $50 equivalent, or around 5,000 yen, per pair. Eye exam: $0.00.

How can Zoff sell so cheaply? The employees, like those in most countries aside from the US, are not optometrists. But they are well trained and extraordinarily nice and this, my 3rd pair of Zoff’s now, is first rate as always. I bought my latest pairs in January 2020 (you know, before the world stopped), and they’re still going strong!

US law requires an optometrist to examine you and issue a prescription. Japanese law does not. It has good company: Germany, the UK, Italy, and countless other nations. Is everyone in these countries seeing poorly and dying of rare eye ailments the optometrist didn’t catch? Doubt it.

But we insist on Americans seeing an optometrist, who goes to school for 8 years and commands an average wage of $106,000, largely to diagnose rare eye problems. However, how many people are deterred from buying newer glasses with a more appropriate prescription due to the high cost? Then they don’t get the new glasses or the optometry exam either. It’s a lose-lose, and we’re letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

I suggest a different model: regulate the way Japan and countless other leading nations do. Let people get their glasses and contacts without a prescription, and they can see an optometrist from time to time, like how they see any other doctor.

What if ibuprofen required a prescription from a doctor the way eyeglasses do? There would be a lot of untreated pain and unnecessary suffering. We don’t do that, and yet, people still get check-ups. Is this about the patient, or is it really about regulatory capture?

My experience at Zoff was so good that I e-mailed them to thank them for their excellent work. They responded promptly (in English!) saying that they would congratulate the employees and “praise them firmly.” That kind of made it sound like they were in trouble, but I understood what they meant. 🙂

Zoff is doing a wonderful thing in providing real care to those who need it at an affordable price, while also giving great opportunities to a young and hardworking staff. I can’t think of a better way to do business.