Based in Tokyo, Kaori Hiroki is a Japanese lighting designer and Women in Lighting Ambassador for Japan. Currently working under the name Lyshus, Hiroki began her lighting career after discovering the wonders of light at university and then pursuing her first job at Uchihara Creative Lighting Design, an award-winning practice.
“While in the company, I got involved in more than 100 different projects, a wide range from large-scale to small, such as international airports, redevelopment projects, residential buildings, illumination events, etc. After 10 years of working, I left the company for my next step. I studied in Denmark, then started to work independently back in Tokyo in 2018. I have been working as a lighting designer for 14 years in total,” she tells darc.
Starting her career in 2007, Hiroki, much like many in the lighting industry, notes the most significant evolution in lighting in Japan was the introduction of LED.
“Before, it was important to combine various light sources such as metal halide, fluorescent, and halogen in a well-balanced way,” she explains. “However, after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, energy-saving got more attention than before in the country. Around the same time, the performance of LED light sources had evolved dramatically. Those two factors accelerated the shift to LED light sources. At first, designers, manufacturers, and users were confused by the emergence of the new light sources, but they gradually accepted it. I believe that the change to LED as the main light source greatly impacted lighting design. It enabled the downsizing of fixtures and also widened the design style for many designers.”
When asked about the Japanese lighting market and what makes it stand out internationally, Hiroki refers to “Shadow” as one of the Japanese design themes. “I think many lighting designers are sharply conscious of it. With Japanese traditional architectural styles, people in the past had developed a sensitivity to finding beauty in the shadows in our daily lives,” she says.
“However, we began to lose such shadows due to the change of lifestyle. Today, Japanese people seem to be a little insensitive to brightness tones in general, and many of us spend our nights with very bright lighting. I think lighting designers are trying to bring back the delicate senses for shadows that lie dormant in people by presenting various forms of night.”
She also highlights that there are a number of lighting design practices in Japan that are leaders in the market. “The quality of their design is high, and many of them have won prestigious international lighting design awards. Although, it’s not easy to get into such renowned lighting design companies, I guess this ensures their quality because, once designers get in, they can gain quality experience in the field and learn a lot from various specialists directly. The market in Japan still has a lot of room to grow. Many experienced young designers, including myself, are trying to become independent and create new approaches.”
In reference to lighting design in interior spaces, we asked whether there were any particular interior design trends emerging in Japan at the moment and what impact this has on lighting. She observes: “People seem to prefer a minimal and simple interior design with authentic materials. Regardless of the size or function of the space, natural materials such as wood are actively preferred. I feel that decorative designs tend to be perceived as a bit deliberate.”
In terms of decorative lighting, Hiroki’s background is more linked with architectural lighting design. However, she has worked on designing bespoke lighting for various projects. “I have designed custom-made fixtures such as lantern lamps, bracket lamps, and streetlamps for several projects. By adopting the lighting design styles and materials that match the theme of interior and architecture, I can create a sense of unity and originality for the entire facility, including the lighting fixtures. This kind of custom production is relatively common.
“Speaking of decorations, illumination events are popular in winter, and lighting designers often get involved in them. I myself have experience working on Illuminations. I designed not only the installation of illuminations but also original objects. I could see the visitors’ positive reactions firsthand, and that’s one of the best parts of the job.”
Hiroki’s involvement in Women in Lighting began in 2019. She first met WiL’s Co-Founders Sharon Stammers and Martin Lupton of Light Collective when she was in Denmark attending a seminar. Upon returning to Japan, she continued contact with the pair, and when the time came, she put herself forward to be the ambassador for Japan.
“What I first did as an ambassador was to collect stories of women in Japan’s lighting industry for the feature article “Your Interview” on [WiL’s] website. I’d known there were many females involved in lighting design in the country. I invited those who wanted to be on the page and conducted interviews in Japanese,” she explains. “Then I posted the English version of them on it. The English translation was mainly done by my sister, Akane, who volunteered her time and effort. I gathered voices from diverse backgrounds, including lighting designers, engineers, and electricians. Currently, 11 interviews have been posted, and several more are in progress. I will keep empowering women in the lighting industry step by step.”
As is the case with so many internationally, Japan too was greatly affected by the global pandemic of Covid-19 and the construction industry in particular took a big hit.
“It has been an uncertain situation for a long time due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the entire construction industry has been greatly affected. For example, many construction projects have been cancelled or postponed, and material deliveries have been delayed. “Accordingly, the lighting market has also been greatly affected. I experienced the cancellation and postponement of several projects too. We are still struggling with various restrictions like refraining from going out, but I believe there are things we can see only in this situation. All of us are trying to find what we can and do the best in this difficult time,” she reflects.
Looking to the future and what developments she is witnessing in lighting in Japan, Hiroki observes the recent trend for lighting manufacturers and developers in Japan is the development of their “unique services that combine LED and IoT for control, such as wireless dimming systems and complex colour control systems”.
“I see this trend continuing, and the research on how to combine technology with lighting will develop more.
“At the same time, it seems that users’ awareness has not yet caught up with the technology or mastered it, so I think it will be a challenge for lighting manufacturers and designers to bridge this gap.”