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Magic in Lights: Day Tripping in Japan

The Lighting Doctor experiences a magical mystery tour in Tokyo.

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The Lighting Doctor in Japan
Randall Whitehead gets lost in a mirrored maze of LED rods.

One of the most exciting things to experience in Japan is the experiential art installation by teamLab, called Borderless, in the city of Tokyo (https://www.teamlab.art). It is a massive, tactile experience, which will probably never be brought to the United States. It involves water and hundreds of people walking around in bare feet. This is one of the advantages of traveling to other countries. You will get to see and do things that are only available elsewhere in the world.


The exhibition hall where this strange and wonderful event happens is huge. It holds hundreds of people and is run like a well-oiled machine. The first thing you do upon entering is take off your shoes and roll your pants up to your knees. All other personal belongings are placed in a locker. The only thing you take with you is your phone or camera.

Randall Whitehead, Japan
                              A walk on the wet side.


Next, you are directed toward a darkened entry. You then must ascend a ramp against a current of flowing warm water, lit with linear waterproof LEDs. It is a very interesting feel, but all I’m thinking about is that they would never allow this in the United States.

Once you’ve gotten to the top there is an area where you can dry off your feet. Then you drop into a room where the floor is made up of what feels like packing peanuts, covered by a black velvet material. Your goal is to make your way across the room which is about 50 feet. You sink in and it feels like you are trying to walk three feet of pudding. There is barely any light. All you can see is a dimly lit doorway on the other side of the expanse. It is awkward and exciting at the same time. 


Randall Whitehead, Japan
                                 Contemplating infinity. 

Then you enter into a huge maze of LED light rods which are both color-changing and they chase (which means they turn on and off in a sequence that makes the lights appear to be moving up and down the rods). There are many rooms with different lighting effects. Here too, the floors are mirrored so that you do feel suspended. Believe me, it is a very trippy experience, you can easily get lost in this maze of light. It is just so magical. 

Randall Whitehead, Japan
                   Entering the 4th Dimension.

The floor and ceiling is mirrored so that it looks like there are crowds of people floating 20 feet above your head and below your feet. It is a strange and giddy effect. 

Randall Whitehead, Japan
                              Light Soup.

The next thing you do is enter a room that is about the size of two football fields. It is flooded with about 18 inches of water. Patterns of light are cast onto the murky water, using LED projectors. Some of them are simple striations, but others look just like giant koi fish. They swim by your feet and you swear that you can feel them. It is mesmerizing.

Randall Whitehead, Japan
Playing Koi

Once you exit you dry off your feet once again. Then you enter a room with mirrored floors as projections move slowly across the ceiling and the walls. This gives you the feeling of be suspended in mid-air. You can sit or lay down and watch as the patterns float above and below you. It is both hypnotic and captivating at the same time.

Randall Whitehead, Japan
                                      Floating Flowers 

 You feel so peaceful. There is no time limit just like in the other spaces. You can stay as long as you like. Even if you move along at a pretty good pace through each of the experiences it will take a minimum of two hours. I could easily have spent much more time, but we emerged after about three hours.

Randall Whitehead, Japan
In the Pink.

From there you go into a huge room that is filled with giant color changing rubber balls. You can touch them and push them around as they go through a series of rich pure colors which glow from within.

Randall Whitehead, Japan
Having a Ball


Randall Whitehead, Japan
            The Power of Flowers

The last area you go into is filled with thousands of orchids and air plants that are suspended from cords in the ceiling. They rise up and down, enveloping you in a blanket of foliage and gentle scents.

The area is illuminated with suspended translucent panels, which are backlit with 5000°, 95 CRI LEDs. They help acclimate you to natural light after having been in darkened environments before you exit.

Randall Whitehead, Japan
Take us to your leader.

On your way out, you pass through a garden of amorphous silver shapes, cloaked in fog. 

Each of the installations were so different and totally mesmerizing. It would be worth a trip to Japan just to experience it for yourself. 

All photos courtesy of Randall Whitehead.

Randall Whitehead headshot

Randall Whitehead is an educator and author on the subject of lighting design. His work has been featured in many magazines, including Architectural Digest, Home & Garden and Esquire. He has appeared as a guest expert on HGTV, Discovery, CNN and Martha Stewart Living Radio.

His Latest book Beautiful Light outlines how to create successful and subtly beautiful LED lighting designs for homes and gardens. Available through Amazon and Rutledge Books.

You can see his entertaining 1-minute instructional videos at furniturelightingdecor.com. And you can follow him on Instagram:  @randall.whitehead


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