When Japan started to modernize in the early Meiji Era (1868-1912), some people believed that lamps imported from the West would bring doom. They basically wanted to outlaw foreign products, and argued that importing lamps would increase Japan's trade deficit and destroy traditional industry.
As it happened, there was no stemming modernization's tide. The public enthusiastically welcomed modern conveniences--especially the lights that brightened their long nights.
Those lamps eventually lost their allure. "Ojiisan no Ranpu" (Grandfather's lamp), a critically acclaimed story for children by Nankichi Niimi (1913-1943), describes how old-style lamps were phased out after the introduction of electric light bulbs.
Perhaps some people can recall the scene. An elderly lamp seller lights up all his lamps and throws stones at them, smashing them one by one. "The age of electricity has arrived," he laments.
Now, incandescent bulbs are being retired en masse. With the nation facing its second energy-starved summer since the Fukushima disaster, the government has asked incandescent bulb makers to curb production and distribution, so that more eco-friendly and longer-lasting LED bulbs can take over.
The steep prices of LED bulbs make me wince, but I can try to live with that drawback. LEDs are said to run on less than one-fifth of the electricity consumed by incandescent bulbs and to last 40 times longer.
The lighting department of a store I visited on July 7 was jammed with shoppers, many of whom had probably just received their summer bonuses and decided to spend some of the extra cash on LED bulbs. Incandescent bulbs looked forlorn.
"Akari bugyo" is a newly-coined expression that describes people who take on the responsibility of policing electricity use in their homes, switching off unnecessary lights. I imagine some families have members supervising their household energy-saving efforts. We all need to save energy wisely this summer.
A haiku by Yuji Kinoshita (1914-1965) goes: "Lamplight glowing yellow like mustard seeds/ Lights up every home." It was penned in the spring of 1946. Peace had returned to Japan the year before. The yellow glow came from incandescent bulbs that were once more allowed to light up the night.
While grateful for those bulbs, so evocative of the Showa Era (1926-1989), I am ready to let them go and usher in the age of LEDs.
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 8
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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