Of course, glasses fetishism is not unique to Japan as it’s widespread in the West as well. Universally, glasses represent intelligence as well as authority, giving rise to stock characters in popular culture like the brainy geek or the school teacher. Take Sarah Palin, who was able to elicit a certain degree of glasses fetishism during her vice-presidency bid with reporters inquiring what type of glasses she wore.
Yet the connection between Japan and glasses is strong. In fact, the type of glasses Palin wore were made in Japan and designed by Kazuo Kawasaki, a Japanese industrial designer. John Lennon’s glasses? They were also made by a Japanese designer, Hakusan. Japan didn’t invent glasses (thank the Europeans for that) and didn’t get its first pair until Francis Xavier brought them from Spain in the 16th century, but the country was a quick study and has since mastered the craft. Spectacles are embedded into the Japanese subconscious, becoming not only a trope, but an object of desire themselves.
In Japan, they’re called “meganekko” or “girl with glasses”. The meganekko is a stock character in Japanese animation and games. According to Patrick W. Galbraith, a PhD candidate at the University of Tokyo, nobody quite knows when the first “girl with glasses” entered the Japanese pop culture zeitgeist. “Glasses were kind of was always around, like the animal ears in Tezuka Osamu manga, and slowly took on special meanings,” says Galbraith. In Japan, glasses have different meanings for both male and female characters.
When male characters wear glasses, says Galbraith, they are a dominant character. They are in control. But, when a female character wears glasses, it can also means she is shy or a wallflower. “If the female character takes off the glasses, however, she tends to be stunningly beautiful,” adds Galbraith. “This is straight out of shojo manga, which provides many of the archetypes for contemporary otaku fetish characters.” The construct exists in the West as well, but it occurs in a higher degree in Japan. The reason for that is simple: glasses are shorthand – a cheat sheet, if you will. Gamers or anime viewers can look at a meganekko and immediately size-up the character. There are already embedded connotations, making characterisation “easy”. According to Galbraith, “This might have to do with the large casts of characters, the need to distinguish characters easily with a relatively rudimentary set of tools, the relative dependence on still images and the need to make them visually interesting.”
There is something distinctively Japanese in how glasses are fetishised, however. Sure, it could be the fact that pin-up models not only often appear in wearing glasses, but wearing glasses while in, for example, swimwear. The notion that one would logically remove glasses while wearing a bikini goes out the door, because it’s not only the model’s body that is the object attention, but her face – namely, her eyes. She is a girl with glasses, a feminine four-eyes. Maganekko.
The fact that Tokito doesn’t actually need the glasses are besides the point. She’s just one of many celebrities with good vision who wear glasses. Glasses are an accessory, and there are even countless speciality shops throughout Japan that specialise only in datemegame, offering customers frames and lenses with UV coating.
In Japan, Akiman points out, it’s thought that the reason people wear glasses is because they read too much or play too many video games or watch too much TV. According to Akiman, “The moment that someone puts on glasses, even if it’s Superman, they take on the appearance of being an introvert like me.” The reason why girls who wear glasses are appealing is that they thus appear to introverts, and it’s easy for fellow introverts to relate to them. As Akiman says, girls with glasses become “one of us”. Thus, the glasses themselves become an object of fetish. “Japanese people are basically introverted,” says Akiman, “and I think that’s why this fetish has grown.”
What Is Japan’s Fetish This Week? is a regular, obsessive look at the trends and topics, from mainstream to niche, that catch Japan’s fancy. WIJFTW alternates bi-weekly with its sister column, What Is America’s Fetish This Week?