When I was a kid, we had our head shots taken at school every year. The photos weren't for any particular use. It must have been done as a courtesy to the students' family. But then I realized that the school collected a fee for it from each student. In that sense, the cost of these photos was more like an annual pension that individuals were required to save up for. Instead of "ten thousand yen per year," you would get "one shot per year." Since they were photos and not money, maybe we should call them "Nensha (annual copy)" as opposed to "Nenkin (pension for Japanese with the direct translation of annual money)."
My mom loved this system because she could see her child's growth at a glance when putting together a photo album. And I hated it for the same exact reason. She'd tell me things like, "See, your front tooth was missing", and "Your hair was too long and made you look like a hippie. And here, your acne was really bad" and such. Every time someone would visit our home, she would show off these "annual copies" with her own narration. In direct contrast with my wish for the album to disappear the album became richer every year. So instead, the real version of the person in the photo often disappeared from the house right before relatives and friends came to visit.
To this day I cannot look at this album without a scowl on my face. But as an adult, I can at least appreciate a little that these photos exist as a documentation of my childhood, especially this one particular photo. It is from when I was ten and it is the only one I'm wearing my glasses in. In fact, that particular year we had an eye doctor come to our school to give us a vision test. Even as a kid I remember being skeptical about this. I thought, "What, they're going to hook up an optician with a way to make money after they have already hooked up a photo shop?" I thought for sure they wouldn't raise an issue since I could read and write comfortably, but they surely did."You need glasses." "Say what?" Surprisingly, my parents accepted this new circumstance quite well and took me to the eye doctor right away to get a pair of glasses made. For me, the kid who didn't need them! And who do you think would do the job in exchange for a lot of money? The same doctor that came to school to give us the eye exam. Something seemed fishy, you see.
If you say I really have to wear glasses, fine, but then I need to get a good looking pair. Should I get the round framed one or the square framed one? I think I spent at least a half hour just making that decision. In the end, being conscious about the trend at the moment, I chose pretty chunky, round frames. The pair reminded me of the goggles pilots wore during World War I, though they were not as big. Then came the fitting of them. Were they too tight, too loose? Was there any weird pressure on my nose, ears, cheeks, and everything? Indeed there was too much pressure in many places. So another half hour was spent making adjustments to them and at last came the case selection which was for sure necessary. Choices for cases were limited and they only had "gorgeous," "super gorgeous," and "super duper gorgeous". Why were there only such expensive ones?! They were for glasses for a ten year old kid! It was clearly obvious to me as a kid: "What a scam this is." Why wouldn't my parents realize this?
One day after about a month of wearing my glasses, I lost them. I swear it wasn't intentional. Once again, I had to go back to the same eye doctor to get a new pair. You don't come across anyone in such joy that often. "What, you lost them? Okay, okay!" So I had goggles No. 2 made, went for a pick up, and came home wearing them. But this time it didn't take me two weeks to lose them. There's always some progress in everything."What a trouble you are. This time you have to buy them with your own savings so you understand the value of things!" I had enough money to buy a pair of glasses because I had been delivering papers since I was eight. However, this was my first big purchase in my life and checking the actual amount of my bank balance left me with a sharp pain. And yet, despite all this, the glasses were lost again in about a week !!! What was I to do now? I buy them and lose them, then I buy them again and lose them again.
Since I had lost them twice already, in a way my parents might have been prepared for the third time, but still this must not have been an acceptable development to them. They must have struggled hard. They kept their voices weirdly low during the discussions on whether to buy the fourth one or not. "Um.. do you think you can do without?" "Sure!" Since then, I've been living free of glasses or contact lenses. Well at least up until recently. In fact, a few years ago, I actually bought the pair of glasses No. 4 I'd avoided at the age of ten. I still have them. I hold on to them though I rarely wear them. The reason I don't wear them is because I don't feel the need for them. And because I'm afraid of putting them down in some weird place.
I look at my ten year old self with glasses in the photo album. "How in the world did you lose those glasses three times in one year?" And I look closer at the photo.
Which pair of glasses was I wearing in this photo? The No. 1, the No. 2? Or the third and final pair? I bet the answer is in the expression of this young man. "Are you about to lose the glasses you are wearing?"
Tony László, Linguist
László was raised in the U.S. with Italian and Hungarian heritage. In 1985, he came to Japan and began actively working as a writer. Since 1992, he has managed the "Together Project" (ISSHO), an NGO that researches multicultural co-habitation. He is married to a mangaka (manga author) , Saori Oguri, and is the "darling" of her piece, "My Darling is a Foreigner". László and Oguri have a child. László is known as a language anorak. His books include How to Grow a Happy Tony Flow, Outstretched in Italy - Adventures of Tony & Saori, My Darling is a Foreigner with Baby, etc.