2008 Summer Solstice Marks Candle Night's Fifth Anniversary of Sending a Message to the World

2008 Summer Solstice Marks Candle Night's Fifth Anniversary of Sending a Message to the World

This year's 2008 summer solstice also marks the fifth anniversary of an event called Candle Night since it was started in 2003.

The idea of holding Candle Night in Japan, where people turn off their lights and light candles in unison, was originally inspired by the Voluntary Blackout movement in Canada, which was launched in 2001 as a way to protest the U.S. Bush administration's declaration that it would build a nuclear power plant each month.

Inspired by the Canadian movement, two Japanese non-governmental organizations (NGOs) -- Daichi-O-Mamoru-Kai (also known as the Association to Preserve the Earth) and the Sloth Club -- worked to start a voluntary blackout movement in Japan. The first Candle Night, held on the summer solstice, June 22, in 2003, was launched together with other environmental groups using the slogan "Turn off the lights. Take it slow."

The Candle Night initiative simply suggests that people switch off their lights for two hours, from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m., on the night of the summer solstice and enjoy some time by candlelight in any way they want-- having dinner, listening to music, taking a bath, etc. Some join in local Candle Night events, while others simply enjoy a quiet night without watching TV. It is a voluntary, participatory, and creative cultural campaign that suggests that people share "alternative ways of spending time" and "more diverse scales of affluence" by temporarily turning away from goods and information as an experience shared by society as a whole.

Beyond political messages such as saving energy and protesting the use of nuclear power, Candle Night encourages a broader concept that calls for enjoying time on one's own by "turning off the lights and taking it slow," which has resulted in attracting many supporters. The initiative was started with the hope of involving as many as one million people. It turned out that some five million across the country joined in the first time (according to an estimate by the Ministry of the Environment), and more than 200 major landmarks such as Tokyo Tower and Himeji Castle turned off their lights.

Since then, Candle Night has taken place on the summer and winter solstices every year, and involved more supporters and events each year. In 2007, a total of 39,845 major facilities, including the famous landmark, Tokyo Tower, switched off their lights, reducing power consumption by 812,508 kilowatt-hours across the country.

The event is now spreading across the world. The Korean Environmental Women's Network, an NGO in Korea, worked closely with Japanese Candle Night organizers to hold their own Candle Night. Events were also held in Taiwan, Australia, China (Shanghai), Mauritius, and many other countries. The Candle Night Committee now sends out newsletters in English to 64 countries in its bid to connect activities and shared feelings in each country and around the world.

Featuring a Sense of Connection and Happiness
The key promoters of this event only provide a platform, however, and do not take the lead in spreading the movement. That is probably why many events are independently organized and the movement has spread so fast around the world.

Each of us may feel that alone our impact is small, but when people act together positively as one it can be powerful. The Candle Night Committee is hoping to connect with other movements in the world, such as the group organizing Earth Hour in Australia, identify the links among the motivations behind the various movements, and then make them visible. Many people are concerned about our planet and future, but we have not yet reached the point where these feelings become strong enough to turn into actions that then drastically change politics and the economy. The Candle Night Committee would like to connect people through these shared thoughts and feelings and transform them into power.

The Candle Night website, the "Candlescape," uses advanced information technologies such as cell phones and the Internet to help share such feelings and reinforce a sense of connectedness. Participants not only in Japan but also around the world can send messages that are displayed in real time globally. The messages appear as "lights" on the world map displayed on the website. The website enables participants to realize the existence of other participants around the world who share the same feelings.

Special Extended Campaign for Candle Night 2008
In 2008 the summer solstice is on June 21. Two weeks later, on July 7, the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit will be held in Japan. Since there are obviously many other countries in the world besides the G8 countries, the Candle Night Committee explored ways to involve more countries and send out diverse messages. Thus, in 2008, the Candle Night event will be extended from Saturday, June 21 (solstice) to Monday, July 7 (Japanese Star Festival), and again call for people to "turn off the lights and take it slow."

Besides the extended Candle Night weeks, the committee is taking a new step. They have remodeled the Candlescape website, which can now better facilitate collecting and sending messages from people all around the world.

On the message board, for instance, anyone can write and send their messages by clicking on the point where they live on the globe and then uploading their messages in English or in their native tongue. The messages are then displayed after rising from a point of light on the globe, illustrating how participants' feelings are being connected across and beyond boundaries.

On the opening webpage of the message board, the English word "candle" is also written in 20 other languages. Once they have selected "candle" in their own language, participants can then write their messages. The 2008 version of Candlescape provides 20 different language platforms, and that number will continue to grow. http://www.candle-night.org/english/2008summer/candle_scape.html

Messages from all around the world will cross over on Candlescape. It can help display many people's messages on the web, and will be a perfect place to share thoughts and feelings with people around the world.

Candle Night Calls on People to Stop and Reflect
Candle Night is now being observed twice a year on the summer and winter solstices. In Japan and around the world, in communities, cafes, and homes, people who share the idea have started to gather and to take action. Candle Night provides an opportunity for them to put their ideas into action.

People who participate in Candle Night are encouraged to stop a moment and think not only about their immediate personal issues but also about true happiness and the things they believe are important, even in the middle of their busy daily lives. Organizers believe that the result of taking this time to think and ponder can be used as one of the leverage points to redirect our society and economy onto a better path, both in Japan and around the world.

Organizers hope you will join Candle Night and enjoy some quality time. Please be sure to write your own message on Candlescape. Even if each of our powers is small, connecting together provides great momentum in moving our world forward in a positive direction.

(Written by Junko Edahiro and Yuko Kishikami)

Note: This article also appeared in the Japan for Sustainability Newsletter #069. For more information on JFS, please visit http://japanfs.org