Sabae Eyeglass Museum

See how glasses used to be made, and even make your own

 By Larry Knipfing   Oct 14, 2013

Sabae city and the surrounding region in Fukui Prefecture is home to the production of many traditional Japanese crafts such as lacquer ware, pottery, washi paper, sake, kimono, and so on. And while not exactly in the same category, the production of eye glasses (and specifically eye glass frames) is something Sabae is justifiably proud of: Currently 90% of frames sold in Japan come from Sabae. The Eye Glass Muesum (or Megane Museum) is a place that brings together under one roof:

-The history of the industry (movers and shakers, tools, processes, key events, etc.)

-Hundreds of frame samples (including frames worn by famous people)

-A workshop area where you can learn how to design and make your own set of frames

-A shop where you can have your eyes checked and then choose from hundreds of Sabae brands

History

The first production facility here in Sabae was established over 100 years ago by Gozaemon Masunaga, who was looking for a way for farmers in the area to earn money during the long winter months of inactivity. In those early days, the production of only 50 pairs of glasses per month was the norm! Everything was produced by hand.

On the the 3F of the museum, there is a beautifully laid out area that brings to life what the workshops of long ago looked like. This include work benches, old tools, old machines, heating and stretching methods, and so on. Interestingly, Sabae was responsible for inventing the concept of nose pads. Saba also developed the use of titanium frames sometime in the 1980s.

Try It!

The 2F of the museum features a cafe where you can rest your feet and enjoy some delicious coffee and cake. On the 1F, you will find a shop selling frames, organized by brand. One deluxe pair I saw on display sold for 250,000 yen! Also, photos and display cases show a dizzying number of celebrities wearing Sabae-made glasses.

On the other side of the shop is a work area. Here, it is possible to make your own keychain or phone strap in the shape of an eyeglass frame (300 yen/40 minutes), or for the more serious, the chance to design and make your very own set of peepers. This requires a special reservation, 17,500 yen, and five hours of your time, but must be a very satisfying and interesting experience.

The Eyeglass Musuem is a short taxi ride away from Sabae Station on the JR Line.

Written by Larry Knipfing
Japan Travel Partner

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