Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Small adventures #16

One of the things that I've always hated about the U.S. is the way glasses manufacturers gouge customers. Primarily this takes the form of changing the frame designs every year or so. If your frames break, the existing lens design doesn't match the new frames so you need to get new lenses too, even if your prescription didn't change. And if your prescription does change, you can't easily get new lenses to fit your existing frames because the lens shapes are tailored to the current year's frame designs. And, since frames can easily run from $200 on up, not including the price of the new lenses, the final total price can be close to $500 every couple of years (given the emphasis on tweaking the prescriptions so that the lenses are too strong for daily use, and help accelerate the degradation of your eyes over time). Ignore contacts, which I've never been able to be accustomed to.

What this means is that I go years between eye exams. My frames age, and eventually break, usually with one of the bows snapping off. If I'm lucky, I can find a shop with a box of spare parts, and can get matching bows without needing all-new frames. But even this was getting harder to do.

A couple of weeks ago, I was out on the train platform when the bow of the glasses snapped off. There's a glasses shop right in front of the station near my apartment and I went in to ask for help. Because the frames had a special spring hinge, it wasn't possible to replace just the ear piece, meaning that I did have to get new frames. So I started bracing myself for a 50,000 yen bill and the need for a new eye exam. But, the clerk pointed me at one line of frames in the 15,000 yen range ($180 USD) and said that they could refit the existing lenses, but it would take maybe a day or two. I put down a 5000 yen deposit on the frames, left the old glasses in the store and went home to grab my reserve pair (a pair of trifocals that gave me headaches and introduced an extreme form of artificial astigmatism, which is why I don't like wearing them). 2 days later, I got the phone call saying that the glasses were ready, so I rode the elevator down from the apartment to the street and walked the half-block to the train station and past that by 50 feet to the shop (total travel time door-to-door - 5 minutes).

The clerk brought out the new frames fitted with the old lenses. They'd recut the lenses to match the shape of the frames. I've NEVER heard of anything like this happening in the U.S. And they did the reshaping for free. The clerk also said that if I ever needed work done on the frames that I could bring them in free of charge. And this all was significantly cheaper than if I'd been in the U.S. (because I ride around on the trains, I don't need to take an eye test when my driver's license would need to be renewed, so I don't have to worry about being forced to get new prescriptions all the time to be street-legal.)

Yet one more reason for being surprised while living here. Free lens reshaping. Who knew?

(I wonder when they're going to realize that they paid for a sign that says "optometsmits"?)

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