For your eyes only
reading glasses are freely available at banks, clinics, post offices and a host of government offices.
POINTING to the three pairs of spectacles in a round plastic container on the counter at the clinic, I asked the receptionist: “Waseremono desu ka?”
“No, they are not left behind by patients. They are rogankyou. Would you like to borrow one?” she said.
“Uh, no thank you,” I replied. Her answer confirmed what I thought were reading glasses or glasses for the elderly.
Sometimes patients forget to bring their own reading glasses or need a pair when filling in questionnaires regarding their medical history. These rogankyou, which are of different magnifying powers, sure come in handy.
Many government offices, banks, post offices and some hospitals or clinics in Japan provide rogankyou.
When I first saw three pairs of reading glasses in a box at a post office, I was surprised. The instructions on the box read: “Glasses for loan. Please feel free to use it and return it to its respective place after use.” The pair with the black frame has the lowest dioptric power, the orange-framed pair is of medium dioptre, and the red-framed pair has the strongest reading power.
As I stepped into the district office, I was taken aback. Whoa! What used to be reading glasses for filling up forms on the table have been replaced by huge, flexible arm magnifiers. There must be a big percentage of the population which is experiencing presbyopia.
Presbyopia is a condition in which the crystalline lens of your eye loses its flexibility, which makes it difficult for you to focus on close objects.
Presbyopia usually develops when we are in our forties, and it is a natural part of the aging process.
Most of my myopic (short-sighted) friends wear contact lenses. Now that they are in their forties, they have become presbyopic. Since multifocal contact lenses are expensive, they have opted for reading glasses.
Some bought slim, elegant rogankyou with sleek pen-sized cases which can be carried in the handbag or pocket.
Due to hyperopia (farsightedness), presbyopia and an eye disease, I use two pairs of spectacles: a pair of progressive addition lenses that offers a more gradual visual transition, and a no-line bifocal. A Japanese friend once gave me an accessory – a necklace with a pendant magnifier. The magnifier was so powerful that each alphabet looked gigantic!
While I was at the ophthalmology department in a hospital last year, an elderly woman’s spectacles caught my attention. It had plastic fittings wrapped around the lens of her spectacles, like goggles. Eager to get something like hers, I approached her.
“It is clipped onto my glasses to protect my eyes from UV rays. Also good for protection from hay fever,” she explained.
“Where did you get it and how How a simple, feelgood logo spawned a global industry. THERE is a famous scene in Forrest Gump. One day the eponymous character, played by Tom Hanks, goes for a run – and doesn’t stop. For more than three years he jogs across America. When a truck drenches Forrest with mud, a fan hands him a yellow T-shirt to mop his face.
After Forrest returns it, the man discovers that the mud has imprinted the cloth with a simple design: a schematic smiley face, consisting of two narrow oval eyes and a beaming grin with dimple-like creases at either end, contained within a circle. It’s a “Eureka!” moment: the man recognises the potential of the design at once, and we understand that he will start flogging similar mass-produced merchandise.
Forrest, of course, is a fictional character. But the man with the yellow T-shirt is an amalgamation of two real-life brothers from Philadelphia who are credited with turning the smiley face into a global fad. Recently I met one of them, Murray Spain, in his office on the outskirts of Philadelphia.
Murray and his elder brother Bernard ran a small business selling greetings cards and novelty items such as smiley-face badges. Around 1970, after these started flying out of their shops, the brothers began selling a range of smiley merchandise, including bumper stickers, cookie jars and key rings. In February 1971, much is it?” I inquired.
“At an optical shop I frequent. Cost me ¥2,000 (RM77) or so,” she replied. She removed her glasses and placed it on the couch for me to take a snapshot.
When I had a new pair of glasses made, I was disappointed that the big optical shop I patronised didn’t have that type of fitting.
However, when I went back to Malaysia last summer, my sisters showed me their polarised wraparound sunglasses. Cool! They were even better, since I could wear them over my spectacles. So I bought three pairs with three different coloured frames for myself, my husband and my son. they copyrighted the smiley face in conjunction with the phrase “Have a Happy Day”.
The popularity of the products surprised everyone. The smiley quickly infected American culture. It became a symbol of consumer America – stamped on everything from cheap plastic trinkets to upmarket goods sold in swish department stores. Murray and Bernard became celebrities known as the “Smile Brothers”. Murray attributes the smiley’s success to the national mood. Many Americans felt jaded as a result of economic uncertainty and the Vietnam War. People wanted to brighten their spirits – and it helped to wear a badge emblazoned with a grin. “Our only desire was to make a buck,” says Murray. “But when it became accepted as a symbol of happiness, we were thrilled.”
The smiley became one of the most recognisable logos of all time. Cartoonists parodied it in newspapers and magazines such as The New Yorker. In 1986, it appeared stained with blood as a central motif of the graphic novel Watchmen. Later that decade, it became an emblem of Britain’s acid-house music scene.
During the Nineties, the Seattle rock band Nirvana created a version with crossed-out eyes and a wobbly line for a mouth. The US retail behemoth Walmart gave a “classic” smiley a starring role in a corporate campaign. Today the smiley appears in the work of artists such as Nate Lowman and Banksy. Most commonly, of course, it is used as an emoticon in countless e-mails and text messages every day.
My Japanese friends in Yokohama have not seen such sunglasses in shops yet. One commented that they would sell well. In fact, a Malaysian friend in Japan requested for one, too.
Since sunglasses with big frames are in fashion now, many Japanese friends think that I am “kakkoii” (stylish) with my wrap-around sunglasses and a black cap. If I add on a mask to safeguard against hay fever, I look “kowai” (scary).
My mischievous husband took a snapshot of me to prove it. n Sarah Mori, a Malaysian married to a Japanese, has been living in Japan since 1992.
Who, then, is the genius that dreamed up the smiley? And who profits from it, presumably laughing all the way to the bank? The origins of the smiley are obscure, and much contested, but people sometimes attribute the design to a commercial artist called Harvey Ball, who lived in the American town of Worcester in Massachusetts.
In 1963, Ball was commissioned to create a logo that would boost morale among employees of an insurance company. In less than 10 minutes, he sketched a circular yellow face with two black eyes and a beaming mouth. His design was printed upon tens of thousands of badges given to the company’s salesmen and customers throughout the Sixties. Ball received a fee of US$45 – but he never earned another dollar from his design, despite receiving recognition as the inventor of the smiley before his death in 2001.
But Nicolas Loufrani, a Frenchman who runs Smileyworld, a licensing company that owns the copyright over the smiley in more than 100 companies and has an annual turnover of approximately £90mil (Rm434mil), resists Ball’s claim. He points out that a smiley face was a key feature of a well-known promotional campaign for a radio network on America’s East Coast in the late 50s. Loufrani, whose father trademarked the smiley in France in 1971, considers it the first known appearance of a smiley face in history.
Whatever its origins, the smiley has now been a prominent part of Western visual culture for half a century. Perhaps the secret of its success is its simplicity. What it stands for can be easily moulded by its context. – The Daily Telegraph UK