Lighting in Japan tends to veer between two opposing modes: dazzling convenience-store brightness and the dim, enveloping glow of a paper lantern. It was the second type that Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi was chasing when he started creating his now-classic Akari series in 1951: light sculptures made with Japanese washi paper on a delicate bamboo frame.
To make his lights, Noguchi headed to Gifu in central Japan, a city known for its traditional chochin lanterns. He went to Ozeki, a company that has been making lights since 1891. Chochin, which make up the bulk of Ozeki’s business, are most associated with the summer festival of Obon, when they’re said to guide the spirits of the dead.