Japan's all lit up for the holidays
From late autumn through winter, elaborate and colorful light displays – from northern island of Hokkaido to the southern islands of Okinawa – ring in the holiday spirit with dazzling brilliance throughout Japan.
These displays, or “illuminations,” are some of Japans most popular winter attractions, drawing as many as 80,000 annual visitors to smaller locales such as the Itoman Peaceful Illumination in Okinawa, and millions in bigger cities like Tokyo’s Midtown Christmas Illumination (5.6 million).
In addition to promoting the holiday spirit, there are more practical reasons for winter illuminations in Japan, according to Takashi Otomo of the Japan Illumination Association.
“Daytime is getting shorter, the air becomes dry and clear, the temperature difference between day and night decreases and fine weather is continuous – all these wintertime factors in Japan make optimal illuminations that look beautiful,” he said. “Actually, winter is the best season for illuminations in Japan.”
The tradition of winter illuminations in Japan is generally considered to have started in Osaka when Tsutenkaku Tower was lit up for the National Industrial Exposition in 1903. The following year, Meiji-Ya, a high-end import grocer, displayed a lighted Christmas tree outside in Tokyo’s Ginza Ward to commemorate Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War. However, Otomo said the practice likely started earlier.
“In the 1890s, some foreign ships berthed at Kobe Port would be decorated with lights to celebrate various occasions,” he said. “Kobe locals who saw these illuminations adopted them for their own celebrations; that would be the very start of this tradition (in Japan).”
Although public facilities have been decorated with illuminations for longer than a century, individuals started illuminating their houses about 12 years ago, according to Keiji Nishimura, managing director of the Japan Illumination Association.
“Company employees who were dispatched overseas were introduced to holiday illuminations and brought back this Western holiday tradition to their homes in Japan,” Nishimura said. “It has gradually spread year after year and today, you can see illuminated houses throughout the nation.”
“These days, we are seeing individuals purchase some expensive illumination devices that had only been used for public space in the past,” Otomo added. “As people are becoming more aware of the beauty of holiday illuminations, and home illuminations are catching on. I expect to see them continue to increase every year.”
The spread of home illuminations, in part, is a result of the modern-day light-emitting diode, or LED, which makes this energy-consuming tradition more efficient and less expensive.
“There are a lot of merits to using LEDs,” Otomo said.
One LED consumes only 0.06 watts, less than 10 percent of what a conventional electric bulb uses. It also produces a lot less heat, reducing the risk of fire to trees and wooden structures. As an added bonus, recently developed blue and white LEDs allow for more diverse and creative displays.
While the home illuminations are growing, public light displays become more sophisticated every year, introducing visual and sound effects.
The recent trend in public illuminations is to create elaborate illusions by combing different LED lights with high-tech 3-D projection mapping, according to Nishimura.
While Kanucha Resort Stardest Fantasia in Okinawa will display 1 million LED lights, Sagamino Illumination in Kanagawa Prefecture will display 5.5 million LED lights in synch with music. And at Yomiuriland Jewellumination in Tokyo, they will arrange 4 million LEDs in the shape of various jewelry boxes.
Luckily, for those not yet ready to invest in millions of LEDs and laser lights for their front yard, most of the public illuminations are free and easy to access by public transportation. However, while a few may run until late February, most end after Christmas or New Year’s.
So why not visit the illumination nearest you tonight? It is a great way to enjoy the brilliance of the holiday season while in Japan.
Where to go
KOBE LUMINARIE ILLUMINATION (Hyogo prefecture): Dec. 4-13, 6-9:30 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 6-10 p.m. Fri., 5-10 p.m. Sat., 5-9:30 p.m. Sun.; 21st memorial illumination with the theme Nel Cuore Kobe decorated with 20,000 LEDs; seven-minute walk from Motomachi Station on JR Kobe Line; 100 yen donation requested to help sustain this project; 078-303-0038.
SHOWA KINEN PARK WINTER VISTA ILLUMINATION 2015 (Tokyo): Dec. 5-27, 5-9 p.m.; illuminated trees and a fountain, and pyramid-shaped decorations made with Champagne glasses; 15-minute walk from north exit of JR Tachikawa Station; 410 yen adults, 80 yen; 042-528-1751.
NISHI SHINJUKU ILLUMINATION MUSEUM 2015 (Tokyo): Through Dec. 25, 5 p.m.; illumination on five buildings and four hotels at the west side of Shinjuku area, decorated with 260,000 LED lights; JR Shinjuku Station; 03-5322-6640.
RISONARE YATSUGATAKE CHRISTMAS ILLUMINATION (Yamanashi prefecture): Through Dec. 25, 5-10 p.m.; featuring illumination on 300 trees at Hoshino Risonare Yatsugatake; JR Kobuchizawa Station on Chuo Line, free shuttle available; 050-3786-0055.
MISAWA CHRISTMAS ILLUMINATION 2015 (Aomori prefecture): Through Dec. 25, 5 p.m.-midnight; at a shopping arcade in Misawa city and the front gate at Misawa AB, five-minute drive from JR Misawa Station; 0176-53-2175.
ROPPONGI HILLS GALAXY ILLUMINATION 2015 (Tokyo): Through Dec. 25, 5-11 p.m.; “Snow & Blue” 1.2 million LEDs line Keyaki Street; Subway Hibiya Line to Roppongi Station; 03-6406-6000.
TOKYO SKYTREE DREAM CHRISTMAS 2015: Through Dec. 25; illumination with three themes on the tower; 5:30, 6:30, 7, 7:30 & 8 p.m. Dec. 1-25, seven-minute projection mappings on a 140-meter-wide screen at 5, 6 and 7th floors; Tokyo Skytree Station on Tobu-Line or Oshiage Station on metro; 0570-55-0634.
MACHIDA GRANDBERRY MALL CHRISTMAS ILLUMINATION 2015 (Tokyo): Through Dec. 25, sunset-10 p.m.; 52.5-foot fir tree with 120,000 LEDs that blink with the theme Snow Christmas Garden at Grandberry Mall outlet shops; 042-795-0109.
NISHI SHINJUKU ILLUMINATION MUSEUM 2015 (Tokyo): Through Dec. 25, 4 p.m.-midnight; illumination on five buildings and four hotels on the west side of Shinjuku area, decorated with varieties of 260,000 LEDs; JR Shinjuku Station; 03-5322-6640.
WHITE KITTE ILLUMINATION (Tokyo): Through Dec. 25, 5:10-10:40 p.m. weekdays, until 9:30 p.m. weekends; illumination in the theme Snow Covered Fantasy World on a 47.6-foot tree along with music at 1st floor of Kitte (stamp); one-minute walk from JR Tokyo Station; 03-3216-2811.
TOKYO MIDTOWN CHRISTMAS ILLUMINATION: Through Dec. 25, 5-11 p.m.; blue-based Starlight Garden art using 183,000 LEDs at Midtown, Midtown Garden, Garden Terrace, Galleria and Plaza; from Roppongi Station on Metro Hibiya and Chiyoda Lines, and Roppongi Station on Oedo-Line; 03-3475-3100.
HAKODATE CHRISTMAS FANTASY (Hokkaido): Through Dec. 25, 6 p.m.-midnight, until 2 a.m. Dec. 22-25; illumination on a big fir three floating on a barge in the ocean near Red Brick Warehouse; presented by Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, sister city of Hakodate; 10-minute walk from JR Hakodate Station; 0138-27-3535.
STARRYSKY ILLUMINATION AT ROPPONGI HILLS OBSERVATORY (Tokyo): Through Dec. 25, 10 a.m.-11 p.m.; enjoy night views in sync with projection-mapping and planetarium from Roppongi Hills Observatory, Roppongi Station on Hibiya Line; 1,800 yen adults, 1,200 yen college and senior high school students, 600 yen children, plus 500 yen for viewing from observatory area, 03-6406-6652.
NAGASAKI ROMANTIC ILLUMINATION - GLOVER GARDEN ILLUMINATION (Nagasaki prefecture): Through Dec. 27, 5-8 p.m., until 9 p.m. Dec. 22-25; 8-1, Minami Yamate-cho, Nagasaki city, four-minute walk from Ouratenshudo stop (street car); 610 yen adults, 300 yen senior high school students, 180 yen junior high school and elementary school students; 095-822-8223.
HIROSHIMA DREAMINATION (Hiroshima prefecture): Through Jan. 3, 5:30-10:30 p.m.; 1.4 million lights in the theme of Fairyland along Peace Boulevard and more; two-minute walk from Fukuro-machi station (streetcar); 082-247-6805.
TAMA CENTER ILLUMINATION 2015 (Tokyo): Through Jan. 7, 4:30-10:30 p.m.; 58 camphor and fir trees decorated with 400,000 LEDs along the Parthenon Odori Street; Tama Monorail Tama Center Station on Odakyu Tama Line; 090-8946-9909.
BACCARAT ETERNAL LIGHTS (Tokyo): Through Jan. 11, 4 p.m.-midnight; illumination at the entrance, clock square, and promenade along the slope until Dec. 25; illumination of 410 Baccarat chandeliers decorated with 26,471 pieces of crystal parts contrasted with 100,000 LEDs from noon-midnight at Yebisu Garden Place, five-minute walk from JR Ebisu Station East Exit; 03-5423-7111.
DANCE WITH TWINKLE LIGHTS AT SAITAMA SUPER ARENA 2015-2016 (Saitama prefecture): Through Jan. 11, 5 p.m.-midnight; illumination with music, along with Christmas concerts 4-8:30 p.m. Dec. 19, 20, 23-25 at Keyaki Hiroba of Saitama Super Arena, Saitama Shin Toshin Station on JR Keihin Tohoku, Utsunomiya and Takasaki Lines; 048-601-1122.
BIHOKU PARK WINTER ILLUMINATION (Hiroshima prefecture): Through Jan. 11, 5:30-9 p.m.; includes music performances; 4-10, Mikkaichi town, Shobara city, five-minute ride from Shobara I.C. on Chugoku Express; 410 yen adults, 80 yen children, plus 310 yen for parking; 0824-72-7000.
ILLUMINATION GARDEN AT ASHIKAGA FLOWER PARK (Tochigi prefecture): Through Feb. 4, 4:30-9 p.m. weekdays, until 9:30 p.m. weekends & holidays; garden is decorated with 3 million LEDs; 15-minute drive from Sano Fujioka I.C. on Tohoku Express or 13-minute walk from JR Tomita Station on Ryumo Line or free bus from Ashikaga Station on JR and Tobu Ashikaga-Line on weekends and holidays; 700 yen adults, 350 yen kids; 0284-91-4939.
TOKYO DOME CITY WINTER ILLUMINATION: Through Feb. 14, 5 p.m.-1 a.m.; Tokyo Dome City is lit with 190,000 LED lights on Tokyo Dome and more; JR Suidobashi Station on Sobu Line Suidobashi Station or Korakuen Station on Marunouchi Line; 03-5800-9999.
YOMIURILAND JEWELLUMINATION (Tokyo): Through Feb. 14, 4-8:30 p.m., until 9 p.m. Dec. 19-25; art using 4 million lights with the theme of Jewelry Colors, as well as 88.5-foot-tall Jewelry Angel Tower at Forest Area; 1,000 yen adults, 500 yen junior and senior high school students, 1,800 yen adults (includes admission, free rides, except Ferris wheel & gondola), 1,300 yen ages 3-17; 4015-1, Yanokuchi, Inagi City; 044-966-1111.
CARETTA (SHIODOME CITY CENTER) ILLUMINATION (Tokyo): Through Feb. 14, 5-11 p.m.., except Jan. 1 & 2; Canyon d’Azur illumination decorated with 270,000 LEDs along with music; two-minute walk from JR Shimbashi Station; 03-6218-2100.
MARUNOUCHI ILLUMINATION (Tokyo): Through Feb. 14, 5-11 p.m., until midnight in December; 200 trees — with 1 million champagne gold LEDs — on the streets on Marunouchi area (Otemachi and Yurakucho); JR Tokyo Station; 03-5218-5100.
KURIHAMA FLOWER PARK WINTER ILLUMINATION (Kanagawa prefecture): Through Feb. 14, 5-8 p.m.; decorated with 120,000 LEDs; 15-minute walk from JR Kurihama Station on Yokosuka Line or Keikyu Kurihama Station; free; 046-833-8282.
MIKIMOTO (Tokyo): Through Feb. 14, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; display with paper crafts in sync with projection-mapping by Davy & Kristin McGuire at Mikimoto Ginza 2 the Ginza district; two-minute walk from Ginza Station on Metro; 0120-868254.
AKASAKA SACAS ILLUMINATION 2015-2016 (Tokyo): Through Feb. 25, noon-9 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. weekends and holidays; 1,670 LEDs with music along with star, meteor stream, aurora, and snowfall at 1st floor of Akasaka Biz Tower of Akasaka Sacas; Akasaka Station on Chiyoda Line; 03-3746-6666.
YOKOHAMA COSMO WORLD WINTER FANTASY 2015 (Kanagawa prefecture): Through Feb. 29, sunset-midnight; features 82-foot tree decorated with 270,000 LEDs and the Cosmo Clock Ferris wheel decorated with pink-red lights (may not available during a certain period due to renovation); three-minute walk from Minato Mirai Station on Minato Mirai Line; free admission but pay for each ride; 045-641-6591.
TOKYO TOWER: Through Feb. 29, 4 p.m.-midnight; 32.8-foot tree decorated with orange 16,000 LEDs, and 24,000 LED ornaments with music from Sunrio animated movie and its characters Kiki & Lala at the first floor main gate and 492-foot-high observation desk; five-minute walk from Toei Oedo Line Akabanebashi Station; 03-3433-5111.
TOKINOSUMIKA WINTER ILLUMINATION (Shizuoka prefecture): Through March 21, 4:30-10 p.m.; enjoy fantasy world created in three areas such as flowers, projection mapping performance in sync with fountain and aquarium illuminated by LEDs; five-minute drive from Susono I.C. on Tomei Express or a 15-minute drive from Gotenba I.C. on Tomei Express or free shuttle bus available from JR Mishimae and Gotemba Stations, 719 Kamiyama, Gotemba city; 1,000 yen ages 13+, 200 yen children, free ages 5 & younger; 0550-87-3700.
COUNTRY FARM GERMAN VILLAGE WINTER ILLUMINATION 2015 (Chiba prefecture): Through March 31, 4-8 p.m.; one of the biggest illuminations in Japan, which brings guests into a fantasy world with the theme of “Toy Box” using 2.5 million LEDs; five-minute drive from Anesaki Sodegaura I.C. on Tateyama Express or an eight-minute drive from Kisarazu Higashi I.C. on Ken-oh Express; 2,000 yen/vehicle after 3 p.m., 500 yen for walk-in; 0438-60-5511.
SAGAMIKO ILLUMINATION (Kanagawa prefecture): Through April 10, 5-9:30 p.m., daily until Jan. 11, Fri. through Sun. Jan.-April; fantasy world created with 5.5 million LEDs synced with music at Sagamiko Resort Pleasure Forest, 10-minute bus ride from JR Sagamiko Station on Chuo-Line and Hashimoto Station on JR and Keio-Lines or seven-minute ride from Sagamiko Higashi I.C. (Exit only) on Chuo Express; 800 yen adults, 500 yen children, 1,000 yen parking; 042-685-1111.
KINGDOM OF LIGHT AT NAGASAKI HUIS TEN BOSCH (Nagasaki prefecture): Through April 18; 13 million lightbulbs at this Dutch-style theme park; 0956-58-0080.