Slow Life--A Vow to "Diet of Light"

Kaoru Mende

I am a lighting designer and have been working in the field of urban environmental and architecture lighting. My job is to propose designs for indoor or outdoor lighting to meet the clients' expectations. Against the current trend in lighting design i.e. adding up excessive light, I often focus on "shadow design" as a way of lighting. That means that beautiful shadows or striking darkness can be generated by reducing unnecessary light and using minimum lighting only in necessary places. As a matter of fact, lighting design is synonymous with shadow design. I believe an important theme in lighting design is the careful use of shadows and darkness. It's not just about filling a space with light.

We are all suffering from "bulimia of light." In fact, there are many people who have never been moved to tears by watching the sky full of stars, or those who have stepped on shadows under the bright moon light. They have been forced to live watching bright TV and computer screens since they were born. Some children are not able to sleep in the darkness. This is especially true for Japanese people, who like to use extremely bright fluorescent lamps even for residential use. Due to limited sources of illumination in the past, the Japanese have come to associate bright lights with wealth and abundance. They have come to have an unusual sense of brightness. The Japanese are not proud of their insensitivity to light. The reason behind this insensitivity is that Japanese people have never experienced an eye-friendly, comfortably lit environment. The Japanese have worked hard to light brightly and evenly but now realize that it's the quality of the light matters, not the quantity.

Excessively high luminance levels at convenience stores and drug stores create a living environment where day and night are reversed. Nobody would be troubled, nor would anything happen if all the convenience stores across Japan turned off the ceiling lights by half and lowered the light level to 500 to 700 lux at night. Customers may be stunned at first, but they would get used to it comfortably in a week or so. Another change could be made to vending machines, which are lit up all day. The lights could be turned off during daylight hours, probably without any notice or reaction.

To reduce the excessive lighting, what we call "Diet of Light," is one of the central issues in the 21st century. How can we abandon the vested interest of using abundant lighting we have created since the last century, and how can we get away from "light bulimia?" Lighting habits can be compared to eating habits. This means that using a small amount of light wisely could be compared to enjoying a small amount of healthy food. Japanese people have been enjoying one of the healthiest and the most traditional diets in the world. Why can't we also enjoy "healthy" amount of lights, similar to the healthy traditional low-calorie, low-fat vegetarian-like diet? Should we go to a fasting center to do that? One of the important goals in living a so-called "slow life," a relaxed, simplified life, is how to use lighting effectively. We need to experience the utter darkness and its beauty to find a better way of using minimum lighting in the so-called "slow life". We need to reduce the volume of light in life. We need to start by enjoying the darkness and the night. It is important for us to turn off lights and get back to darkness because real darkness can make people realize their fears. It can also make people reflect on their inner self, give them time to think of their loved ones and of their past. Furthermore, when in complete darkness people can then appreciate and be fascinated by even small amounts of light. The Candle Night movement offers us an opportunity to share the value of a "Diet of Light" with people all over the world. The experience of darkness, even for a brief moment, is important.

Kaoru Mende
Lighting designer, leader of the Transnational Lighting Detectives,
Professor at Musashino Art University
Promoter of Candle Night

December 10, 2004

Notes from the Candlelight Committee: In the Candle Night-Summer Solstice 2004 event, Japan's major convenience stores such as Seven-Eleven and Lawson cooperated to turn off their signs altogether. On Omotesando Street in Harajuku, Tokyo, one of the trendiest fashion streets in Japan, fancy boutiques such as Channel and other stores turned off the lights during the Candle Night event. This means that people's sense of value seems to be changing.