Gas Light (ガス灯)

A gas light is illumination produced by burning a gaseous fuel.

While it was once used for interior lighting, it is now mainly used for street lighting as it causes the problem of ventilation.

Types of Gas Lighting

Fishtail Burner

In earlier times there were "Ichimonji lighting" which burned gas under reduced excess air to produce open flames as well as fishtail burners with flat nozzles. At the time gas lights generally provided 16 candle powers per light. They became obsolete when the incandescent light bulb was invented.

Incandescent Gas Light
The invention of a gas mantle increased light output per light to 40 candle powers, resulting in incandescent gas light. Incandescent gas lights were considerably used before the tungsten bulb became prevalent. They are so called to distinguish them from the traditional open-flame gas lights. They are currently used for gas lighting.

The gas mantle was invented by Carl Auer von Welsbach. It is made by saturating a hemp or rayon fabric with cerium nitrate or thorium nitrate. It emits radiation when heated and calcified by a gas flame.


Natural gas was long used for lighting and combustion. It was William Murdoch, a Scottish who first manufactured gas lighting equipment designed for lighting. In 1797 he installed gas lights in Manchester, England.

As early as in 18th century Japan natural gas was already known as "Inka" in Echigo. One of the earliest document on the use of gas for lighting gives the following account: Ryuho SHIMA, physician in Nanbu Domain, burned gas produced from coal tar to obtain lighting in his house in Kameido before the Ansei Great Earthquake. (Based on "Meiji jibutsu kigen" (Origins of Meiji Artefacts) by Kendo ISHII). Other examples followed, including burning combustion gas from reverberatory furnaces or gas carbon in mines for illumination.

In 1857 Sengan Park in Kagoshima City, Kagoshima Prefecture attached a gas pipe to an existing stone lantern to burn gas for illumination. It was Nariakira SHIMAZU who ordered this equipment to be made. Although he planned to install similar equipments across the domain, his plan was not materialized as he suddenly died in 1858.

In the Meiji period full-fledged lighting equipments in Western style came to be used.

It was first used in 1871 in the neighborhood of the Japan Mint in Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture. Gas fuels for machines were used for lighting gas lamps in the factory as well as street lights nearby. The gas lighting equipment used at the time is still preserved.

On September 1, 1872 Yokohama Gas Company was established in the former site of the Iseyamashita Coal Storehouse, Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture (around the present Honcho Elementary School in Hanasaki Town, Naka Ward, Yokohama City). Gas lights were managed as general business. On September 29 of the same year they were installed along the street running from Oe Bridge (the present National Route 16 Bridge near Sakuragicho Station) to the neighborhood of Bashamichi and Honcho Street in Yokohama City.

They were also widely used for interior illumination, though mainly in public offices and wealthy households. However, they did not much penetrate common households, where oil lamps were generally used.

Later, as interior lighting, they fell into disuse as the incandescent light bulb was invented and the power distribution system became widely available. As mentioned below, however, they are still used for street lighting to some extent. The infrastructure for distributing gas fuels for lighting such as city gas distribution equipment has been continuously improved to this day, in order to provide fuels for gas cooking and heating equipment.

Regions and Places where Gas Lights are Installed

Although gas lights became out of use as light bulbs developed, they are still used for monumental illumination in some regions. The oldest existent gas lights are installed in front of the former Hassam House in Sorakuen Park in Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture. It was originally installed in the foreign settlement in Kobe in 1874. Gas lights are found in the following places. (Electric gas lamp lighting is not included).

West Exist of Sendai Station, Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture

The number of gas lights is 110, and all are made in England. The gas lights have automatic switch-on. They are installed along Higashi Gobancho-dori Street, Aoba-dori Street and Ekimae-dori Street (in Sendai City).

Ekimae Intersection, Aizuwakamatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture

South Exit of Yotsukaido Station, Sobu Main Line, Yotsukaido City, Chiba Prefecture

Gas lights stand for a total length of 223 meters, which is the longest section with gas lights in the world.

Tokyo Gas Negishi LNG Terminal, Bashamichi, Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture

In front of Tsurumi Tokyo-Gas Office Building, Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture

Miyasannokawa-dori Street, Mishima City, Shizuoka Prefecture
The city of Mishima is planning to remove the gas lights.

In front of Hamamatsu Station, Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture

In front of the former Hassam House in Sorakuen Park, Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture

In front of the Takamatsu Branch of the Hyakujushi Bank Limited [in Marugamemachi Shopping Street], Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture

Sankyubashi-suji Street, Chuo Ward, Osaka City
This street lined with gas lights appears to be longer than that in Yotsukaido City.

Main Street in Haborland, Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture

'Peace Light' in front of the main entrance of Shinjuku City Office, Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo Prefecture is the only open flame gas light.

Around Daimaru Kobe Department Store in Seihokukado in the former foreign settlement, Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture

Shinsai-bashi Bridge, Chuo Ward, Osaka City
Although Shinsai-bashi Bridge was turned into a pedestrian bridge, its former rails and gas lights have been restored.

Clock Square in front of the City Hall, Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture

In front of the City Hall, Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture
The gas lights have been given by Nishinomiya's sister city.

External and Internal Gas Pipe
In city gas pipework gas equipment in the user's site is called an internal gas supply pipe. An external gas pipe refers to the pipe running from the street or gas cylinder to the gas meter. An internal gas pipe refers to the pipe from the meter to the gas equipment. These names are remnants of those of the pipes for gas lights at the height of their use.

[Original Japanese]