For two hours on Wednesday night June 7 all of the lights in the Umeda district of downtown Osaka will be switched off. Umeda is the city’s principle commercial core, noted for its skyscraper canyons and general hustle and bustle. It is not a place accustomed to being thrown into total darkness.
The occasion is One Million Candles Night, a time for the people of Osaka to take a break from the whirl of modern society and contemplate how our thirst for electricity threatens the planet. As candles illuminate the Osaka night two dual purposes are served: electricity is saved (some 3,000,000 kilowatts) and people can step back from their hectic lives and recharge their own spiritual power source.
The idea for Candle Nights in Japan does not, however, originate in the spiritual world but in the world of commerce. Kazuyoshi Fujita was born on a farm in Iwate Prefecture in 1947 and came of age in the time of student activism in the 1960s and 1970s. Fujita threw in with protests against war and over population before embarking on a typical corporate career path after school.
Fujita could never quite find his comfort zone in the typical capitalist world. He fell into studies of chemical-free vegetables, which were poor sellers due to insect damage. Fujita started practicing traditional farming practices, eschewing the pesticides and fertilizers common in industrial agriculture. He trucked his carefully-nurtured crops to an open-air market once a week and soon his products were popular enough for Fujita to give up his corporate job.
Fujita founded Daichi Wo Mamoru Kai Co. Ltd. in 1977 and pioneered the organic food movement in Japan. The company has been so successful that he has been able to indulge his passion for entrepreneurial activism. In the early 2000s Fujita established the Food Mileage Campaign to make consumers aware of the vast distances their food was traveling from field to table. In 2003 came Candle Night, a time to “turn off the lights and take it slow tonight.”
The first candle nights took place in Tokyo and have expanded vigorously across the country. With that growth the simple message of contemplation has expanded as well. Today’s candle nights, including Osaka’s, feature live entertainment and vendors selling environmentally friendly products. At the Umeda event will be installation artwork playing off the flickering candle lights. There will be ”Candle Corridors” and “Message Candles” laced among the festivities.
But while One Million Candles Night has come to be a symbol for raising environmental awareness, attendees (admission is free) are reminded to take a moment to reflect by oneself or with friends as the tens of thousands of candles set the contemplative mood. As the lights dim down consider the words of the founders…
Do something special . . .
Read a book with your child by candlelight.
Enjoy a quiet dinner with a special person.
This night can mean many things for many people.
A time to save energy, to think about peace,
to think about people in distant lands
who share our planet.
Pulling the plug opens the window to a new world.
Awakens us to human freedom and diversity.
It is a process of discovery about our potential.
However you spend them, for just two hours, join us.
Turning off the lights, and help us spread
a gentle wave of candlelight around the earth.