Your Interview Yumiko Nagashima
Introduce yourself (name, company, position, country) and tell us how you got into lighting design (including education/qualifications).
My name is Yumiko Nagashima. I am a lighting designer at the studio, CHIPS LLC. I've been pursuing what I got interested in, and I think that made me who I am.
I belonged to the theater club when I was in high school. The lighting changed how the stage looked in the theater, and I like that. At around the same time, I was interested in display design too. A display window was smaller than a stage, but it could change its looks differently by lighting, as well. For me, there had been other worlds behind the window and on the stage, and they were beautiful. I decided to major in interior design at university. In the winter of my freshman year, I went to the fifth avenue in New York. I wanted to see the Christmas window display so badly. I truly enjoy the trip, and I'm glad that I did. While in university, I worked part-time in a hotel banquet hall as a lighting and sound staff. I had a wide range of roles, such as lighting fixture maintenance, focusing and operating the lighting, and general sound operation.
My interest gradually changed to landscape design by the senior year, such as parks and community development. I wanted to do something related to landscape design after graduation and get involved in whole creative processes from the beginning to the end. Luckily, I got a job at Nagumo Design where I can pursue that. The studio created essential products in landscape design like street furniture. Mr. Nagumo, the founder and the head designer, was very particular about his works, down to the millimeter. I came to understand that the slightest difference could make a huge impact on the landscape. I don't think I was a diligent student at university, but I worked passionately at this company and learned a lot from him about design and creating processes for three years.
However, during that time, I always felt that I had no taste in product designing. I hadn't studied it at school. I'd got involved in various product design projects, but lighting attracted me after all. I came to think that I should pursue the lighting which I was interested in the most. I left Nagumo Design and started working at Illumination of City Environment (ICE), Ltd., where someone I know referred me. That's how I finally entered the lighting design business.
Looking back, I was attracted to lighting from the beginning. It was not direct to get to lighting design, but everything I learned on the way has helped me with my current works.
Tell us about your work – is there a specific type of project you like to work on or an area you specialise in and why?
I think I'm good at architecture and exterior projects. I'm always excited when I attend the meetings for those projects, maybe because I still like my previous job. It's rewarding for me to design places such as station squares and parks used by the public.
I have a hot-spring resort town project that I've been continuously working on with a landscape designer. When I first went to the site, it was dark at night, and few tourists walked around. It was because hotel guests traditionally didn't go out at night. Each hotel offered great dinner, entertainment, and of course, hot springs, so they didn't need to go out. However, the hotel owners who felt that this was not the way to go took the lead in renovating the park, maintaining the pathways, lighting up the bamboo grove and the bridge, and so on, to improve the landscape over the years. Now, they produce sightseeing maps and recommend night walks to hotel guests and visitors with them. The lighting environment has increased the town's safety, and by putting lighting here and there, we have created a scenic hot-spring resort that is not too flashy and never gets old. Many people of all generations walk around the town, following the lights. I feel it is rewarding when I see them smiling and having fun.
What project are you most proud of and why?
It's Happoen Hakuhokan, the historical banquet hall built in traditional Japanese architectural style, renovation project. While at ICE, I worked on the project, and we won the highest award from the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America. There are some reasons why this project made a strong impression on me.
First, I could make use of my experience. This facility is mainly for weddings. Since I worked part-time in a hotel banquet hall when I was a student, I knew the flow of wedding ceremonies and expected directions, so it was easy for me to create the lighting scene-setting. Secondly, It was a great opportunity to work well with craft persons and electricians collaboratively. There was a vaulted lattice ceiling in the main hall, and the problem was how to install the lighting. We brought the lighting fixtures to the lattice factory and worked with them to find the best solution. Finally, it gave me a tremendous feeling of excitement when all the constructions were finished.
As the project was close to completion, we needed to adjust the lighting scenes on-site. However, we didn't have the best condition to do it because other constructions were operated simultaneously. The adjustment process took several days overnight, but the electricians and programmers were cooperative until the end without uncompromising.
On the day the lighting scenes we'd created together were revealed to the publicity, I was so overwhelmed when I saw the light streaming from the front in the room. It was the moment I would never forget. I couldn't have created such wonderful lighting on my own. I learned the importance of teamwork a lot from this project.
What is the biggest challenge that you have overcome in your career?
I was once driven into a corner by an illumination project and fell apart. The client approved the design at the pre-construction presentation, but they told me it wasn't what they had in mind after it was completed. We had to go back to the middle of the process and reinstall. I was really sorry to everyone involved, especially the electricians. This incident made me afraid of interacting with people, and I left lighting design projects for a time. I thought I might not be able to return to the profession, but after I left, I realized once again that I liked my job. Now, I'm back to working as a lighting designer at CHIPS, trying to balance myself.
How does light inspire you?
I would say light is my “longing”.
I can't really explain it, but it's something that has always been on my mind.
Light can be the main character or a supporting character. An ordinary object can look different and wonderful by lighting on it.
And above all, light is indispensable in our daily life. We just get it without difficulty, but we can't live without it. I long to be dependable like it.
What is your message for other Women In Lighting?
Working in lighting design requires night-time operations; some tasks are limited only at night. Design work itself can't be divided into fixed hours. I think it's important for women to adjust their working style and the environment when facing marriage, childbirth, and childcare.
There are so many working women out there. I don't think marriage means quitting jobs for women anymore, but some people still regard women working as a negative thing. I hope our society will change more.
Interviewed by Lyshus; Translated by Akane H
“I would say light is my ‘longing’.”