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Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2005


Lighting brilliance from Kouichi Okamoto

Special to The Japan Times

Lighting is many things to many people. For many, it's simply a practical tool to combat darkness. For others, it plays the role of mood enhancer. Carefully calibrated lighting can transform a space both subtly and dramatically.

Kouichi Okamoto's Honeycomb Lamp
Simplicity is the hallmark of Kouichi Okamoto's light designs, as seen in his Honeycomb Lamps. PHOTOS COURTESY OF KYOUEI

Kyouei, or rather designer Kouichi Okamoto, is a relatively new entrant to the wide field of light design, but he has already managed to bring forward an intriguing mix of materials and ideas, creating products that are not only novel, but also ones that prove that innovation and style can go hand in hand with affordability.

Established 20 years ago in Shizuoka Pref. as a manufacturer of car lighting by his father, the Kyouei company is where Okamoto found himself occupying many roles, from office employee to salesman to delivery man. In 2004, a design section was created, which finally gave Okamoto the opportunity to pursue his growing interest in creating products of his own. The designs he had in mind would strive for a balance of uncluttered form and function.

The first kanji in Okamoto's first name, Kou, represents "light," so it's perhaps natural that this young designer became so attracted to it. His passion for innovative light design certainly shines in the products he has created to date.

The Balloon Lamp
The Balloon Lamp takes its cue from Edo Period lanterns.

Take, for instance, the Balloon Lamp: "I wanted to make a spherical lamp that was functionally simple," he explained. Trying to find a solution for the battery that would power it, he looked into the past and took a hint from the Japanese lamp called the chochin. "[It] was a portable lamp that used a candle during the Edo Period. With the Balloon Lamp, the flame is transformed into an LED, the candle into a lithium cell and the paper shade into a rubber balloon." Because the LED emits no heat, there's no danger of it melting the balloon.

Okamoto's latest work, the Honeycomb Lamp, also finds inspiration from bygone days by using traditional denguri paper, special to the Shikoku region, to create a lantern-like shading effect. The finished product is an attractive fold-out paper outline that surrounds any light bulb and socket, with the stretched folds producing -- you guessed it -- a honeycomb pattern.

Although these last two products might lead you to believe that Kyouei's designs rely heavily on Japanese traditions, his DVD-based Color Light suggests otherwise. The DVD is based on the idea that even a television set can act as a light source, and does so by playing a series of colored screens that can then be paused to enable a colored-lighting effect. This instant mood light is the designer's way of finding unlikely sources for light creation, and at the same time offers an easy, affordable way to alter one's home environment.

The Honeycomb Lamp
The Honeycomb Lamp folds out, accordian-like, to cover any ordinary light bulb.

The designer's work is not limited to the realm of lighting. An active DJ, Okamoto is also interested in sound as a design element, as seen in his appropriately titled Random CD. Put this CD in your player, set it on shuffle and it generates an original soundscape as 99 five-second tones get mixed on the fly. In tandem with the DVD Color Light, this symphony of randomly created scales expands the textbook definition of "space design."

Currently, Okamoto is hard at work on two new products that will, like the Honeycomb Lamp, be paper-based designs as well as preparing an exhibition of his works next March at the Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art. On one floor, he'll arrange 20 TV monitors displaying the Color Light DVDs to create a sequential gradation. Other floors will display many Honeycomb Lamps, and 200 Balloon Lamps hung together.

We can surely expect "glowing" reviews, and a bright future for this up-and-coming designer.

For more information, see Kyouei's Web site at www.kyouei-ltd.co.jp/

* * *

TO collection for Issey Miyake
Designed by Tokujin Yoshioka, produced by Issey Miyake and developed by Seiko Instruments Inc.

It's that time of the year when you really should be getting all those New Year's resolutions down on paper, and start planning on ways to make them happen. Better time-management will surely be at the top of many lists, and what better way to tackle that task than with a new watch.

Our pick: Tokujin Yoshioka's recent TO collection for the Issey Miyake line of stylish watches. Available in combinations of black and silver dials with stainless steel or leather bands, they act as brilliant examples of Yoshioka's brand of minimalism, always finds a happy convergence of functionality and design. We can't guarantee that the TO watch will lead to better time-management, but at least you'll look good walking in late to a meeting.

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