Facilitating Star-Gazing: Light Control Legislation of Beseicho

Biseicho is a small town located southwest of Okayama City in Okayama Prefecture. It is located on a hill side 300-400 ms above sea-level. 'Bi' means beautiful; 'Sei' means star; and 'cho' means town or ward.

Biseicho faced many of the problems familiar to small towns in Japan - industrial flight, aging population, migration of population etc. In attempting to find a vision around which to revitalize and mobilize the population, the town identified itself with planetary stars, and set out to become a 'town of stars'. Since then many projects have been carried out around the theme of stars and star-gazing.

This received an unexpected impetus in 1983, with the Japanese Coast Guard moving its station from the nearby Kurashiki City to Biseicho, due to air and 'light' pollution. At the same time, an amateur group of planetary observers set up nine observatories in the Biseicho area. A large number of days with clear skies, stable climate patterns, and high altitudes were found to be good for observation of stars. Biseicho was also less affected by light from nearby urban areas.

In 1987, the Environment Agency of Japan (EAJ) conducted a Star Watching Contest. Biseicho was selected as the best city for star-watching in Japan. As a result of all these events, the Biseicho municipality was asked by the community to take measures that would enable and preserve star-gazing conditions. In order to enhance and extend this asset, the town decided to develop an appropriate environment to facilitate star-gazing. An ordinance was passed against light pollution in Biseicho. EAJ and other experts were also consulted in drawing up this ordinance, which was passed by the city council in 1989.

Thus was passed the first 'Light law.' The purpose of the law is to keep necessary light for daily life, but preserve the best conditions and maintain the night sky as dark as possible for star-gazing. The provisions envisaged under this law stipulated that outside lights were not to be directed towards the sky. Display signs outside stores and shops were to have shades, with light pointing downwards. Offices were to use curtains and blinds to shut out light. Outside lights were not to be used after 10 pm, except as a security measure, or for street lights (which were specially designed for the purpose).

In order to ensure active participation, the Town government initiated an information campaign targeted at its residents that highlighted the relative advantages, in terms of an image for the town, but also of increased revenues from visitors and tourists. A two-thirds subsidy was offered for the redesign and rebuilding of facilities to confirm to the 'Light law'. Models and demonstration projects were built, and the media used extensively during the campaign. Lighting up of monuments was also discouraged.

The Light law and related activities in Biseicho has put the town firmly on the Star-gazers map in Japan. More than 10,000 visitors come to the town to star-gaze every year. Recently, a 1.01 m diameter telescope was set up as a part of an observatory.

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Contact: Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org