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Home interior – Japanese style Lighting

Lampshade with script. Japanese style Lighting

Lampshade with script. Japanese style Lighting

Japanese style Lighting

Soft, soothing, and beautiful, Japanese lighting techniques will heighten your appreciation of the world around you. First of all, in the traditional Japanese house with its low, overhanging eaves, the lower parts of a room receive the most light while the higher areas become progressively darker. This is because sunlight, blocked as it is by the eaves, enters the room after being reflected off the ground or off the veranda, and travels in an upward direction. Light becomes less bright the farther it goes, which in this case means the higher it goes. The Western window, on the other hand, admits sunlight directly—a curtain being used to block it out when necessary—and the rays of light travel in a downward direction.
In Japan, lighting devices for the home originally used to be placed on the floor because of the way light entered it, as described above. It is the same with garden illumination: instead of hanging lights from trees, the Japanese used stone lanterns placed on the ground. This kind of lighting is, moreover especially suited to the custom of sitting on the floor, discussed earlier. Since tables and other surfaces which require illumination were low, lamps situated on the floor were ideal.

Lamp with fiberglass shade

Lamp with fiberglass shade

The development of glass in Japan came very late. Thus, the technique of using glass to provide direct, bright illumination, and to reflect light in a sparkling, glittering way, did not flourish. Rather, the soft illumination which enters a room through the white paper of the shoji can be said to be the basic characteristic of Japanese-style lighting, and indirect lighting is vastly preferred to harsh, direct lighting.

If modern illumination can be compared with the brilliant sun, perhaps traditional Japanese illumination may be said to represent the luminous moon. Part of the tranquil beauty of the traditional Japanese home is captured through the use of indirect lighting, which, in addition, complements the soft textures and natural colors of a room with tatami and shoji. Today, in Japan, however, the sense of enjoyment associated with the play of light and shadows seems to have been forgotten, and the concept of creating atmosphere through the use of natural or indirect lighting, such as that used in a tea room, has almost disappeared. Although bright lighting can be used attractively, soft lighting can add a new dimension to the home. Here are some ideas.

Meanwhile, shoji can serve as a room partition. It can also serve as a kind of wall illumination. Depending on light conditions, shoji can reflect light to make a room brighter or be used to produce a beautiful silhouette effect when shadows are created by the lattice frame of the shoji or trees outside.
As has been mentioned already, the shoji can be suspended as a partition-wall, with a spotlight shining on it from behind. 8mm films or slides can be projected onto the side without the wooden frame. When not required, the shoji can be hung on the wall out of the way, or in front of a window instead of a curtain.

Another idea is to fix a light bulb onto a wall and then put a small shoji-like panel in front of it, or, something like a Japanese kite can also be interesting. If a kite is used, the lighting efficiency can be improved by inclining it slightly, either upwards or downwards. This can be easily mounted and held in place with thick wire.
The andon is usually placed on the floor, though it can also be stood on a desk or a shelf. The basic pattern is to have a hollow, upright wooden frame around the sides of which a shade made of shoji paper is affixed, leaving the ends open to allow heat to escape. This is then mounted on a stand.

Although the andon could be moved from room to room indoors, it was not intended for use as a kind of torch to be carried around all the time. When going outdoors, the Japanese used a chochin, a portable lantern made of thin bamboo cane wound into a spiral, to the outside of which paper was glued. As it could be folded flat, it was easily portable. Later, chochin came to be hung on shop fronts, bearing the symbol or name of the shop, and thus can be seen as one of the first forms of suspended lighting in Japan. Although the use of andon has sadly become only a novelty, chochin still thrive, especially in the entertainment districts of cities, and one can see large red chochin outside places serving Japanese food.

Chochin are ideal for use at garden parties. Both the chochin and the electric cord can be suspended in a line, from a wire running from one tree to the next. Or instead of electricity, candles can be used, as was the case with the original chochin. Chochin can also be hung as illumination from the eaves of a veranda.

As was said earlier, originally the custom of putting light fixtures on indoor ceilings and walls hardly existed at all in Japan. So it came to be that, when such fixtures were eventually adopted, the chochin, which had been used mainly outdoors, the andon, and various devices based on the shape and techniques of shoji, were adapted for this purpose.

The chochin is particularly effective in giving a Japanese touch to a room when suspended from the ceiling. Hanging an andon from the ceiling is also possible. Usually the bottom of the andon shade is left open, but if it is hung from the ceiling it should be closed or else left with only a small opening. If one should use shoji, it is best to suspend it using a hook from which it can be easily removed, since dust will collect on it.
The points to pay attention to are more or less the same when the lighting is fixed to the wall. A simple bracket extending from the wall can be used.

In either case, the use of paper poses a fire risk; particularly if there are children around, a floor lamp can be easily overturned. Fortunately, white non-flammable plastic sheeting looks very much like real shoji paper and can be used as a substitute.

This kind of plastic sheeting can be used effectively to provide illumination for large areas such as the ceiling in the kitchen or the floor of a living room. The use of reed panels or even mesh to diffuse light is another way of providing indirect lighting for the home.

Japanese style Lighting