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[ISHES Newsletter #23]'Candle Night' Special Solstice Event in Midst of COVID-19 Pandemic

2020/06/25 17:08:12

ISHES Newsletter #23
June 25, 2020

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Copyright (c) 2020

Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, Japan


Dear Readers,

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is having significant impacts around the world. We sincerely hope that anyone who becomes infected will recover quickly and that the crisis will be resolved before much more time passes.

In this June 2020 issue, you will find the following articles:

'Candle Night' Special Solstice Event in Midst of COVID-19 Pandemic

The "Million People's Candle Night" was held for ten years starting in 2003, with the message of "Turn off your lights and light a candle for two hours on the evenings of the summer and winter solstices." Thinking that Candle Nights could take on a special meaning in the midst of this coronavirus pandemic, organizers decided to hold an event this year with the theme of "Shine a light beyond the pandemic." What can we see there beyond the light of this Candle Night?

- Recommended articles from the JFS Newsletter on sustainability issues in Japan

We invite you to enjoy three articles that tell the ten-year story of the "Million People's Candle Night," from the launch, to expansion, to successful completion.


'Candle Night' Special Solstice Event in Midst of COVID-19 Pandemic


By Junko Edahiro, President of the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES), Japan

What is "Candle Night"?

Have you ever heard of "Candle Night" in Japan? It is an initiative that began in 2003 to encourage people to turn off their electric lights and televisions for two hours on the evenings of the summer and winter solstices, and spend some special quality time under candlelight alone or with families and friends.

"Candle Night" in Japan was initiated by five main proponents --Kazuyoshi Fujita (Chairman of Daichi-Wo-Mamoru-Kai), Shin-ichi Tsuji, (cultural anthropologist), Shin-ichi Takemura (cultural anthropologist), Miyako Maekita (copy writer), and myself, Junko Edahiro.

The year prior to that, the Voluntary Blackout movement was started in the United States and Canada to protest the Bush Administration's nuclear energy policy of the time. The movement called on people turn off their lights and instead to light candles.

With Candle Night in Japan, we felt that the approach should not be limited only to political messages such as opposing fossil fuels or nuclear power. Though there may be many things people want to protest, opposition to something might be less likely to attract broad support. So we settled on a simple message of turning off the electricity and instead lighting a candle to spend quality time with loved ones. In 2003, we published the following joint statement:


Candle Night Summer Solstice 2003.

Turn off your lights for two hours from 8 to 10 p.m. on the evening of June 22, 2003.

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.

Turn off the lights, and help us spread
a gentle wave of candlelight around the earth.

On the evening of the solstice, for two hours from 8 to 10 p.m.

Turn off the lights. Take it slow

(End of Quote)

Ten years after the launch we decided to close the secretariat. By that point, the Candle Night concept had grown into a self-perpetuating movement around the country.

But this year 2020, the five original proponents talked it over and felt that Candle Nights could take on a special meaning in the midst of this coronavirus pandemic, so we decided to revive the Candle Night appeal, this time with the theme of "Shine a light beyond the pandemic."

In response to our invitation, we received messages from people who would be planning events all over Japan, in Sapporo, Tokyo, Kobe, Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Kamakura and beyond. Events were reportedly also held in Korea, New York, Germany, and more.

In Japan, on the night of the 2020 summer solstice on June 21, from 8 to 10 p.m. we held the "Online and Fundraising and Candle Night" on Sun Beach in my home town of Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, with the message of "Lets join together even during this pandemic! Let's support others!" (This event was organized by "Miraisozobu," a creative community group, and co-sponsored by the Atami Beach Club, with cooperation from the non-profit "atamista").

Below I would like to share an outline of our Candle Night event this year, a first for this format in Japan (and maybe in the world too).

Atami Special Candle Night

COVID-19 countermeasures

(1) We planned the event using streaming online video, so people could enjoy Candle Night not only on the beach but also from the comfort of their own homes, without having to gather together physically in one place.
(2) The number of event staff was kept to about twelve people, the minimum required to arrange and light the candles in preparation and to extinguish and collect them after the event.
(3) The staff and on-site participants at the site on the beach were all encouraged to wear masks, and to maintain physical distancing we also had staff positioned to direct people as necessary.

Connecting with the world

(4) We collected donations for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors without Borders, a global organization that provides medical assistance to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from healthcare. For example, they are active in Yemen in the Middle East, a country that suffers from a severely damaged medical system after five years of conflict. The coronavirus pandemic has had serious impacts there, and hospitals are in a state of crisis, with a mortality rate above 40% for patients admitted to hospitals in the southern city of Aden. Médecins Sans Frontières provides emergency medical aid to deal with coronavirus in over 70 countries around the world.

Connecting locally with Atami

In the "No one left behind" spirit of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) we linked up with a social service center and welfare facility in Atami. We bought bottles and glasses that had been gathered and cleaned by members of the "Fureai Sagyosho," a local non-profit social welfare service facility, and used them as candle holders. Also, we donated a portion of donations received to the facility and the "Yo-ko-no-sono," another social welfare service facility.

Environmental initiatives

(6) We tried to be eco-friendly and reduce our climate impact by reusing bottles and glasses as candle holders, and using beeswax candles as much as possible to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

Preparation for rain

(7) We decided to hold the Candle Night event at the Atami Fish Market, which has a roof, so people could enjoy the event even if it rained.

Fundraising appeal

We set up with an online donation website where people could make donations of 500 yen (about US$4.6) or more. To anyone who donated we provided the streaming video web link the day before the event, so many people could enjoy the Atami Beach event from anywhere. During the Candle Night event, we read out the names of donors (or initials, as requested).

In total we collected 240,000 yen (about US$2243) in online donations and from participants on location. From the total we subtracted the minimal expenses (cost of candles, online donation handling fees, etc.) and donated 50% of the proceeds to Médecins Sans Frontières, 30% to the "Fureai Sagyosho," and 20% to the "Yo-ko-no-sono." (Organizers and co-sponsors all volunteered their time.)

By chance, the City of Atami held a wonderful ten-minute fireworks display at the same time, and that together with a live performance by a local violinist made it an awesome Candle Night event. We streamed everything, so many people in Japan and around the world were able to enjoy the event live.
You can view the recorded video at:

In closing

To minimize the further spread of COVID-19, events cannot be held where people gather in large groups. But thinking there was still something we could do, we decided to hold this Candle Night featuring an online event, fundraising for charity, and being eco-friendly.

It was rewarding to have created an experience in the SDGs spirit of "No one left behind" while avoiding a large and crowded gathering, and we were able to raise funds for health care workers fighting COVID-19 in developing countries as well as local community service facilities.

(1 USD=107 JPY)


Recommended articles from the JFS Newsletter on sustainability issues in Japan


In this regular section of each issue of the ISHES Newsletter, we recommend past articles from Japan for Sustainability newsletters. The non-profit JFS was active from August 2002 until July 2018, sending out information to the world with the aim of moving society in Japan and the world toward sustainability and greater happiness.

In this issue, we introduce three articles that tell the ten-year story of the "Million People's Candle Night."

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

2008 Summer Solstice Marks Candle Night's Fifth Anniversary of Sending a Message to the World

Candle Night Marks its Tenth Anniversary -- A 'Beginning' from an 'Ending'


Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society

*The Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES) is an organization based in Japan that is working to build a happy and sustainable society. To this end, we need to think about happiness, the economy and society together by learning from, analyzing, and thinking about theories and cases in Japan and around the world on what happiness is and what kind of economy and society will create and support happiness.

The Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society newsletter is a free monthly newsletter to keep you up to date with the latest information. ISHES bears no liability for the newsletter's contents or use of the information provided.

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