You may shop for clothes and pottery whenever you're in Japan, but while you're there, pick up some sleek specs, too.
The Japanese have long triumphed in clothing design and modern architecture; the national aesthetic, at its pinnacle, is world-class. While paper, pottery, lacquerware, robes, and slippers are among several affordable products made in Japan worth bring back to the States, many visitors aren’t aware that eyeglasses also make great souvenirs.
Bold, colorful, and ultra-fashionable eyeglasses are everywhere you look. Walking down the street, you’ll see people wearing everything from Elton John throwbacks to sleek, toned versions of sunglasses that wouldn’t be out of place in Mission Impossible or the latest Bond thriller. What’s more—eyeglasses are one product that typically falls within the budget of most North American travelers.
Known as megane in Japanese, eyeglasses are as much of a fashion statement here as they are stateside. There is a fundamentally different look to the varieties of Japanese eyeware, though. They're practical, but artsy. And because eyewear is considered as much a part of daily life in Japan as good socks are, megane can cost a lot less than they do in the United States.
The challenge is finding ones that are not made in Europe or North America; the Japanese are as fond of the famous Western brands as anyone else and it’s hard to find megane made within the country.
Here are a few great places where you can find beautiful frames for as little as $80. Be prepared that an excursion to one will be different from a visit to one of their U.S. counterparts. Buying eyewear in Japan, like so many other transactions here, is a slow, almost ritualistic exchange of ideas. You won’t be rushed, and you won’t be pushed into buying more expensive frames than you intended.
Inside a hole-in-the-wall on a quiet side street in Ginza (as well as in Aoyama), Kamuro has two walls of eyewear, divided by Western and Japanese brands. The Japanese products are typically made of bright, hard plastic and are designed to be exciting: Curved shapes and colors that can have you wearing purple or red.
This store in Shibuya (pictured) only sells its name brand: Factory 900. The shop opened on Valentine’s Day in 2015, but started manufacturing eyewear back in 2000. The designer, Yoshinori Aoyama, who is the brother of the company president, creates eyeglasses that are sharp and have a sci-fi look, with some frames so thick they could be be cool equipment for manga super heroes.
This company’s claim to claim to fame is its long history, dating back to 1905. Masunaga began in Fukui, where “97 percent of Japanese-made optical frames are manufactured.” Now with shops in Tokyo and Nagoya, much of the eyewear sold has a stern and beautifully traditional design, giving the wearer a sense of command.
Finally, there’s Jins, which is not exactly a discount outfit, but still has prices that are lower than most competitors, and sport youthful, hipster looks. You can get frames, lenses, and a case starting at $80.