Imagine a donut covered in decadent black chocolate laid demurely on a white plate. Imagine someone has taken a generous bite out of that donut. From where you stand, and from the angle from where you see that donut, would you be able to tell me which side of the donut was missing? 

Top, bottom, left or right would be responses you’d give, right? Right!

Now imagine rows of donuts separated by size, where the uppermost row is fairly large, followed by smaller and yet smaller sized donuts until the bottom row is the size of a cheerio. And all these donuts are placed just so that in each row the bitten-off part is either pointing up, down, left or right

Photo by Stoica Ionela on Unsplash

Yeah, like so! 

Well, in Japan, since the 1990s this is the chart that everyone who goes in for an eye exam is exposed to. It’s genius I think, but I didn’t always know what to make of it. 

Today, I want to share two stories with you; 
one new and the other one very old.

The younger of my two sons has been taking an intensive course in Spanish in beautiful San Sebastian, Spain. He has been gone for six weeks and in the first week, right after he recovered fully from jet lag, made an important observation about what it was he needed most, confident as to where he’d invest his hard-earned Euros. 

“The town, Mom,” he began, “is so bright with color and sun that if I don’t get me a pair of sunglasses I’m sure I’ll return home blind.” 

Well, I’ve never been to San Sebastian, nor have I ever felt so blinded by such a sun to argue with the decision he’d made. And I certainly wouldn’t want my son to go blind. I had to trust that my son had his priorities straight.

So, my twenty-something young man from Japan went to el oculista to order himself a pair of prescription sunglasses. With hardly enough hours in a day to accomplish his school work, socialize and live, he failed to get information about the basics of an eye exam. 

After it was over and when he found time to call me, he just couldn’t contain his disbelief and laughter. “I felt like a fool,” he confessed. “Sitting in the reception area waiting to be called in to see the oculista, I brushed up on the Spanish words for top, bottom, left and right, never for a minute imagining it to be different from the way it is in Japan.” 

Do you see where this is going? 
The eye exam chart in Spain required he mentioned the proper names of the shuffled up letters of the alphabet. 

“Who knew!?” he exclaimed almost sobbing with laughter. 

I roared uncontrollably with my own bout of laughter that my young man hung up on me.

I would have wanted to tell him my story right after he told me his but our phone conversations have become so few and far between that I’ll have to remember to tell him when he returns.

But I will tell it to you.

In May of 1990 as a new bride, I set foot in Japan for the first time. Right after recovering from jet lag my husband took me to the driving bureau to exchange my old driver’s license for a Japanese one. 

It was the routine then. No tests to take, nothing. A first come first serves kind of morning service, we were told. So we went. 

But then they called me in to take an eye exam. I was unprepared, uncoached about these things, and my husband, the poor guy, he was unaware that there existed anything remotely different from the status quo. Bless his heart.

Imagine my surprise when I saw those donuts.

Imagine the examiner’s expression when I replied circle, circle, circle to every slide she showed me. Oh, my heart. I thought of being mad at my husband that day, but the thunderous laughter that arrested us, almost got us kicked out of the place. 

When he could offer an explanation, do you know what he said? “Sorry, never for a minute did I imagining the eye exam you know to be different from the way it is in Japan.”

Yeah, is this like deja vu, you think? Yeah… 

Incidentally, in 1990 I hadn’t learned the proper words in Japanese for top, bottom, left and right, but after my husband’s explanation, I was able to point with my finger which way the donut had been bitten. They issued me my first Japanese driver’s license that day.

Disclaimer: I tried to get you a real eye exam chart but there were copyright infringement clauses on them. Forgive me. If you want to see for yourself, I ask that you look them up on the web. Look for the chart with the donuts.

I Wish You Miracles, Selma.

Selma is a retired Fifty-something enthusiast of positive thinking. She’s a long time resident of Japan. Visit Selma at
Selma is a retired Fifty-something enthusiast of positive thinking. She’s a long time resident of Japan. Visit Selma at

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