Comments 21

Laser Eye Surgery in Japan

I got my first pair of glasses when I was about 13.  At age 16, I started wearing contact lenses, and glasses became a last resort. For the next 20 years I used contact lenses pretty much everyday.

I’ve journeyed around the world with a wash kit containing vials of lens cleaner, saline, spare lenses and backup glasses. In the grand scheme of things, having to wear contact lenses is a mild inconvenience rather than a burden, but I really wished I could simply fix my eyes.

Glasses at age 13, attending The Manchester School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Glasses at age 13, attending The Manchester School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Laser eye surgery, LASIK, has been around since the 90s, but the cure seemed to come with too many possible side effects. Cases of patients no longer being able to drive at night due to haloing and glare sounded a little too common to be worth risking my own vision. For me to undergo LASIK it would have to give great results with minimal risk. I’d want the latest generation of equipment, used by a team that does enough procedures for it to be routine.

Over the past few years, several of my Japanese based friends have had LASIK. Some went overseas to the States, the UK or Thailand, a few had it done locally in Okinawa, while others travelled to mainland Japan.  I decided to look into the various possibilities and one procedure, and one clinic, seemed the best option for me.

iDesign iLASIK as used by NASA

iDesign iLASIK as used by NASA

The latest version of LASIK is called iDesign iLASIK and the blurb sounded impressive.  “iLASIK® is IntraLASIK + CustomVue Treatment, was based on the approval of Laser Vision Correction treatment by the United States Department of Defense and NASA-National Aeronautics and Space Administration and approved for use by their Air Force, Navy Pilots and Astronauts.” The procedure is customized to an individual’s eyes so the results in terms of clarity and recovery are better. It is more expensive than standard LASIK but I’d already made the decision that for me as a photographer the quality of the result was more important than the cost.

The Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic has seven clinics in Japan, but only the Shinjuku and Kobe branches are able to perform the latest iDesign surgery. The Shinjuku clinic turned out to be just around the corner from the Pentax Forum in Tokyo where I’ve had several group and solo photo exhibitions so I knew the area well.

I contacted Richard Masuda who is in charge of international relations at the clinic. Richard’s a bilingual Canadian so was able to answer my questions and arrange an appointment for me. I requested to do the eye consultation and then surgery on the same day, and was booked in for December 27th. I had to stop wearing contact lenses at least 4 days before the operation, so I was back in glasses when I flew up to Tokyo on the 26th.

Now in the system!

Now in the system with follow-up appointments already booked.

The Shinjuku branch of the Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic is on the 35F of the i-Land (no pun intended) Tower. The building’s impressive, Fuji stood clear on the horizon, and the clinic was modern, bright and spotlessly clean. At 11.30AM I arrived and was given my appointment card. I then filled out the forms (provided in English) for medical history, types of sporting activity, desired procedure etc.

Medical History Check

Medical History Check

Kitsunai-san the examiner then took me through a comprehensive series of eye tests. Along with the usual optometry tests to determine visual acuity, degree of myopia and astigmatism, they also tested radius and curvature of the cornea, intraocular pressure, thickness of the cornea, the radius of the pupil, and using WaveScan technology the tiny aberrations in the  eye.

Mr Kitsunai the examiner

Mr Kitsunai the examiner

Next the staff put some drops in my eye to dilate the pupils. This took a few minutes to kick in, and when it did my distance vision went blurry and my eyes became more sensitive to light. Dr. Kubo checked my eyes, and said I was good to go.

Dr Kubo the consultant

Dr Kubo the consultant

A staff member and Richard then ran through the iLASIK procedure with me, and the various eye drops  I would need to used over the following days. I also paid for the treatment. Premium iDesign LASIK is 380,000 yen for both eyes, but I got a 10,000 yen discount as I travelled from outside of the local area, and a 30,000 yen discount for giving a friend’s referral number.  Total cost 340,000 yen. It was now around 1pm and I was booked in for surgery at 3pm. I went and had some lunch while my eyes returned to normal after the dilation procedure.  Just before 3pm I returned, had a final check, anesthetic drops were put in my eyes, I took a pain tablet that would kick in later, and I was ready to go.

Richard Masuda & I just before surgery.

Richard Masuda & I just before surgery.

I put a gown over my t-shirt, a hat over my hair, changed into slippers then went into the surgery part of the clinic. I took off my prescription glasses (for the final time) posed for a photo with Richard and then went into the operating room. Richard also came into the room to help translate.

The whole surgery took less than 5 minutes. The room was dimly lit, there was a recliner, various machines, and the surgical team led by Dr. Shiba. I lay down, they put a strap on my forehead to stop movement and a nurse rested her hand on mine. The surgeon put  a speculum on one eye to hold back the eyelids then swung the iFS Femtosecond laser machine over my head. I stared at the dot and in a few seconds the laser cut a flap in my cornea. The first machine was swung away and the Excimer laser swung in. I stared straight ahead, and  the surgeon lifted the flap in my eye. Things went a little dark for a second, then I was looking at a rather blurry red dot. The laser started, and for about 10 seconds the surgeon said something along the lines of that’s great, just look ahead, nearly done, perfect. The flap was replaced,  the speculum switched to the other eye, and the procedure repeated. A couple of minutes later I’m done and walking out of the surgery. It was a little hazy, but I could already look around and see. I change out of the gown and hat, put on my shoes and walk back into the waiting room. I’m given a pair of glasses with clear lenses to protect my eyes from dust and fingers etc for the first week.  Richard  runs through the procedures with the eye drops and pain medication another time, gives me his personal phone number just in case, and I’m done!

Glasses again!

Glasses again!

It’s a 15 minute walk from the clinic back to my hotel. On the way back my eyelids start to get really droopy and  tears start to flow. There’s no pain, but I do feel like I’ve been hit by a tranquilizer dart. It’s clear why you shouldn’t drive on the same day as the procedure. I get back to the room, put in the three different eye drops and fall asleep still wearing my new protective glasses. I awake a couple of hours later, it’s now 7pm. I look out of the window and see the neon lights of Shinjuku. I burst out laughing. Everything is really sharp. I feel like the Six Million Dollar Man.

Eye Drops - Prevent Infection, Prevent inflammation, Prevent dry eye

Eye Drops – Prevent Infection, Prevent inflammation, Prevent dry eye

Later that evening, an hour before going to sleep, I put in the eye drops again. I have some weird dreams. I keep waking up and staring at two tiny green lights on the smoke detector above the bed. I’d never noticed them before. I’d never been able to see them before. 

At 11.40AM I am back at the clinic for my 1-day check. The day before without glasses I couldn’t see the chart, I got a score of 0.06. Now I could read the second to bottom row with each eye, and with both eyes open I could just about read the bottom row of comically small symbols. I now had 1.5 or slightly better in each eye. (20/20 vision is 1.0) I chat with Richard again, I have no pain and I can see great. The only worrying thing was that when I walked passed a mirror the new glasses made me look like the elderly guy from UP.

Now back in Okinawa, and  still grinning at how well I can see. I have the one week check up in Osaka in a few days time, and I’ll put up more updates in the future. If you’re already looking for more information you can check out the website or contact Richard.

Kobe Kanagawa Website – http://www.kobe-kanagawa.jp/english/

Richard Masuda Email – richard.masuda@kobe-kanagawa.jp

Also, if you decide to get surgery, tell them my referral code Chris Willson 483-960 and you’ll get up to 30,000 yen off.


  1. I’m pretty curious about this, and figure I should at least go for the initial examination to see if I’m eligible. You had the eligibility exam the same day? Did they mention how common it is for people not to be a good fit for surgery?

    How much time do you expect for your vision to stabilize? I need reading glasses and would need to get new lenses after surgery, but I can’t really do that until the vision is stable. If it’s more than a week or so I may need to get a temporary pair of cheap reading glasses from a bookstore or something.

    Also, the Kobe branch (or is that the head clinic?) is next to Sannomiya station which is right on my commute, just fifteen minutes from work. But it takes me almost an hour of train and subway to get home from there; in your experience (“tranquilizer dart” was a term you used) is it feasible to do that after surgery, or should I try to plan for some other way to get home if I go through with this?

    • Hi Janne,

      For specifics the best person to ask is Richard. Send him an email and he will probably give you a call back and discuss everything with you. My vision stabilised very quickly, I could see great within a few hours. For a couple of days bright lights at night looked a little starry. Still taking the eye drops, and first thing in the morning your eyes feel a little dry before you put the drops in, but that too should get back to normal after a few more weeks.

      The surgery I had corrected my distance vision. It doesn’t effect the need for reading glasses as you get older. What this means is that eventually I will sometimes have to put on reading glasses, but I won’t be messing around with bifocals or contacts and glasses.

      Richard said it was unusual for me to be almost falling asleep as I walked home. I think it was probably a mix of the drug and general tiredness.

      • OK, thanks for the response. I’ll probably book a consultation in Kobe directly; my Japanese should be up to it, and my wife will come along as well.

        I expect my presbyopia will get worse. That’s OK too – I don’t mind reading glasses. It’s really the astigmatism, more than anything, that I want to get rid of, and that’s why wavefront-guided reshaping is so interesting to me. Because of it my vision is bad at every distance, and the optical compromises from correcting astigmatism, near-sightedness and presbyopia at the same time means nothing is really clear or sharp even with glasses.

  2. Pingback: LASIK in Japan – The 1 week check-up | TRAVEL 67 – Chris Willson Photography

  3. Had my exam today. Got a surgery appointment on the 22nd. Using your referral code to get a discount 🙂

  4. Hi,

    we met at the Kanagawa clinic today and later on accidentally at Pentax Forum.
    Only a little comment from my side
    “iDesign – I would definitely do it again!!” 😊


  5. Juan Polanco says

    Hello there Chris, thank you for a great post.
    I am also now searching for a LASIK surgery plan that can accommodate to my budget and also my time. I work on weekdays 8 hours a day but not on weekends. Do you think this schedule work for the post-operatory check-ups or after treatment?
    Also, would it be ok if I use your refferal code for my surgery procedure discount?

    Thanks a bunch

    • Hi Juan, You can get the operation and post op checks done on weekends. I flew up from Okinawa to mainland Japan for my operations and checkups, usually on the weekends. Of course you can use my referral code.

      All the best with your operation.

  6. Aaron says

    Hello Chris,

    Appreciate the great information and will check out the clinic. A great read and really interesting about the new techology. You definitely did your research! My eyes are pretty bad so I am looking into their Phakic IOL. May I use your referral code? All the best from Kyoto.

    • Hi Aaron, Of course you can use the referral code. It’s open to anyone. I’ve been very pleased with my experience.

  7. Iemand says

    Hey Chris,

    I came on your blog by searching for Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic reviews. I plan to do my eye surgery as well there, so would it be okay to use your referral code?

    Thanks in advance

    • I had no pain at all. The operation only takes a few seconds and your eyes have been numbed. But it is a strange experience, and I just tried to relax as much as possible. The professionalism of the staff made this easy.

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