Colour is perceived differently in different cultures. For example, Chinese and Japanese have a character with a meaning that covers both blue and green. Japanese also have two terms that refer specifically to the colour green. Japanese traffic lights have the same colours as those in other countries, but the green light is described using the same word as blue, “aoi”, because green is considered a shade of aoi. Another example is the colour white. While white is used in many Western countries to represent purity and innocence, it’s seen as a symbol of mourning in many Eastern countries.
Both natural and artificial light come in a range of colours, so light is also perceived differently by many cultures. This doesn’t just apply to coloured light. White light is available in a range of different hues from warm to very cold. As lighting designers, we categorise these different whites using a colour temperature scale. 2700 Kelvin is a warm yellow/orange white, whereas 5000 Kevin and up is a very cool blue white – the higher the colour temperature the colder the colour.
The light we prefer is strongly related to culture. Generally western people feel more comfortable in low colour temperatures such as 3000K, while Easterners prefer high colour temperatures such as 4000K or 5000K – why is this? Maybe it’s down to climates. Here in the UK, our weather is a lot cooler and we want our homes to be warm and cosy. Eastern regions have a hotter climate and people want to escape the heat into cool homes. Maybe it’s down to ‘nurture’. In Japan following the war the majority of homes were fitted with cool white fluorescent lamps. The fact that most Japanese people have been brought up with the cool blue hue of fluorescents must influence the type of white they feel comfortable with. Either way, studies have shown that people from the same region regardless of race will have the same colour preferences. So, what colour white do you prefer?