May 31, 2005


"Just a Little Effort" -- A New Approach to Environmentalism SpreadsAcross Japan

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.33 (May 2005)

A growing number of Japanese are questioning the 20th century-type of world based on mass consumption of materials, information and energy. Governments and municipalities often encourage change, while many companies and citizens' groups are also active in heir own ways.

During the past few years, a new type of activity has been emerging in Japan, inspired by concepts such "Take small steps," "We are not alone if we do it together," "Pass on the inspiration," and "Take it easy and enjoy the moment."

Easy for anyone to join and fun to share with friends and family, these types of activity are spreading. Through them, many people are starting to experience a change in their sense of time and in their attitudes, and to rediscover a sense of unity with their family, friends, community and the Earth. These activities also give people a chance to question the assumptions underlying the world's current economy -- such as the growth-centered, efficiency-first principle, mass production and mass consumption -- and to reconsider what real happiness is and how we really want to live our lives.

"Candle Nights" on the Summer Solstice

One of these initiatives is "Candle Night." Under the slogan of "Turn off the lights, and take it slow," the first Candle Night was on June 22, 2003 on the night of summer solstice. This event was originally initiated by several of Japan's environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Candle Night encourages people to turn off the lights and to spend some quality time in the candlelight for two hours from 8 to 10 p.m. on the night of summer solstice. The idea of the initiative originated from the Voluntary Blackout movement that started in the United States several years ago, but this approach is not limited to political messages such as promoting energy conservation or opposing nuclear power. "Turn off the lights, and take it slow," appeals to everyone and has obtained wide support in Japan.

Participants can enjoy the event by having dinner, listening to music or taking a bath by candlelight. Some go to local events. Some enjoy a quiet night without television. By spending two hours differently from the normal routine, participants find a chance to review their ways of life. In modern society, people consume huge amounts of information, goods and energy. "Unplugging" temporarily can awaken us to different ways of spending our time and to other standards of abundance. Sharing these opportunities with others as a social experience also make "Candle Night--Summer Solstice" a voluntary culture-creating event.

Candle Night has also grown into a movement that people can join at their own will and way, in a sort of loose network. One of the tools to help create this network is cutting-edge information technologies taking advantage of cell phones and the Internet.

In 2004 the Candle Night Committee, the secretariat of the movement, invited people to send messages via the Internet several weeks before the event. Participants sent a message and postal code, allowing the organizers to plot their locations on a map of Japan in real time. The map/message board was called a "Candlescape," and it helped link participants with like-minded others all over Japan.

Another web-based system, called the "Candle Kaleidoscope," also enhanced the sense of unity. Participants were able to upload photographs from their mobile phones in real time to show how they were spending their two-hour Candle Night.

Various entities such as the Ministry of the Environment (MOE), businesses, municipal government and artists in a variety of fields across Japan joined this participatory networking event. According to the MOE, an estimated five million people took part in the first Candle Night in 2003. Over 200 major landmarks, such as the Tokyo Tower and Himeji Castle, a world heritage site, turned off their nighttime illumination. Tokyo Electric Power Company provided a graph of power consumption that night, and a satellite flying overhead tracked the event, providing visualize images from the sky.

During the "Candle Night-Summer Solstice 2004," more than 6,000 major facilities turned off their lights, and convenience stores across Japan voluntarily turned off their signs. An estimated 6.5 million people participated, and many community events with local flavors were held nationwide. The movement spread to other countries as well, including Indonesia (Bali), Brazil and Ecuador, where some "Candle Night events were held.

Preparations for the "Candle Night--Summer Solstice 2005" are now underway all over Japan. The Candle Night event is developing into an annual tradition that goes beyond the boundaries of government, business and citizens.

From the website you can subscribe to the Candle Night Newsletter in English. Please visit, if you are interested in future developments of the Candle Night movement both inside and outside of Japan.

"Street Sprinkling" Cools Japan in Summer

Another movement is spreading across Japan, drawing attention to a type of activity that anybody can join: the Sidewalk Sprinkling Campaign. The Japanese language has a special word, "uchimizu," which refers to sprinkling water on the streets and sidewalks to cool them down in summer. It is a traditional custom in Japan, and was especially common during the Edo-Period (1603-1867). A contemporary poem on the website expresses the spirit of this reborn tradition.

All together on the same day, at the same time, sprinkle water to cool the summer heat, recycling bathing and other water. It's just little effort.

Just a little effort can cool the scorching summer.
Just a little effort can cool the heat-island effect.
Just a little effort can save electricity in midsummer.
Just a little effort can make you gentler to the Earth.
Just a little effort can refresh your mind and body.
Just a little effort can unite a community.
Just a little effort can make everyone happy.

The Edo-Period Street Sprinkling Campaign was carried out for the first time ever in Japan -- and of course in the world -- at noon on August 25, 2003. Many people participated and rediscovered that the wisdom of this watering custom from the Edo Period was still useful and effective. It has been attracting new supporters, who have rediscovered the joy of doing "just a little effort." (Part of the message here is about recycling water. For "uchimizu," people are to use rainwater, bathwater, etc., rather than water from the tap. Bathwater is quite clean, as people use the bath for soaking after washing.)

In 2004, "Uchimizu" organizers set a target of lowering the temperature in central Tokyo by two degrees Celsius, appealing to the public with the slogan "Bring on the wind." This attempt was planned as a real-life test of computer simulations of the cooling effect of water-sprinkling that had been conducted by the Public Works Research Institute (under the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport of Japan). This time, sprinkling by the 300,000 participants succeeded in dropping the temperature by one degree Celsius.

Neither the Candle Night nor the Edo-Period Sprinkling Water Campaign are huge movements that could dramatically reduce human impact on the environment. But global environmental issues are ultimately concerned with our ways of life and our happiness. So no matter how advanced our technology, or how excellent are our products or laws, it will not be possible to shift toward a sustainable society if each person does not have a fresh look his or her lifestyles and values.

In that sense, these movements could be seen as new and noteworthy in that they show us the meaning and significance of "just a little effort," and let us feel the joy of translating ideas into action to lead to the wave of social change.

(Junko Edahiro)