Illumination season arrives on Okinawa

Illumination season arrives on Okinawa

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Okinawa

I can’t remember since when Christmas illuminations have become so popular on Okinawa or Japan’s mainland. Growing up in the 80s, Christmas was already brightly lit and KFC was a must for many Okinawans, but the Christmas glamour in various colors was not around like they are now.  

According to Thu-Huong Ha, a culture critic for the Japan Times, who wrote an article titled “All I want for Christmas is fewer illuminations in Japan,” it was in the 1990s that Christmas illuminations became common in Japan. What’s behind the rise of its popularity, according to Ha, was the collapse of Japan’s bubble economy in the early 90s and the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. Back then the Japanese needed a ray of hope during an economic recession and the aftermath of the catastrophe that left more than 6,400 dead, noted the critic.

Fast-forward almost 30 years and Christmas illuminations have become somewhat omnipresent. You don’t need to be in Tokyo or Kobe to immerse yourself in the blinding lights. Illumination events are taking place across the country and some families even decorate their homes with festive lights.

Okinawa is no stranger to such a glittering Christmas trend. Illuminations begin lighting up many locations on the island in mid-fall. Although white Christmas is unlikely in Okinawa, the colorful lights setting the mood for the holiday season.

Christmas Fantasy (Illuminations at Okinawa Zoo & Museum)

From mid-December through New Year, the Okinawa Zoo & Museum gives off an exceptional radiance with 1.4 million bulbs. Not only that, but this location also becomes a stage for many festivities to pump up the excitement. With “Super Aurora Attraction,” a laser light and firework show, as a main feature, illuminations of various themes will be displayed to include “Heart Land (heart-shaped illuminations”, “Niagara (waterfall-simulating illumination).”

Santa Claus is also coming to join the crowd, and there will even be a snowfall for a “White Christmas” in Okinawa. In addition, to bring some chills to the season, expect some zombies and dinosaurs, too.  

This event will start Dec. 16 and conclude Jan. 8. Please note that several days where there will be no illuminations.

When the illuminations take place, the park will stay open until 9:30 p.m., except Dec. 31 where the hours will be extended until 1 a.m.                                                    

Christmas Fantasy (Illuminations at Okinawa Zoo & Museum near Kadena Air Base)
DATE: Dec. 16 – Jan. 8
*Closed Dec. 18 – 22, 26, Jan. 1, 4, 5
TIME: 4:30 – 9:30 p.m. (Last admission at 9 p.m. On Dec. 31, the hours will be 4:30 p.m. – 1 a.m. with the last admission at 0 a.m.)
GPS COORDINATES: N 26.327100, E 127.804266
ADMISSION (WALK-UP): 2,400 yen (approx. $, high schoolers and above); 1,400 yen (between 4 years of age and middle schoolers); free admission for 3 years and below.

* Advance tickets are available at MCCS Tours+ and KADENA ITT. They are priced at 2,100 yen for high schoolers and above, 1,200 yen for between 4 years of age and middle schoolers.


Ryukyu Lantern Festival

In Okinawa, some illuminations have a historical touch to them. Murasaki Mura Ryukyu Kingdom Theme Park will once again be host to the Ryukyu Lantern Festival starting Dec. 1. Enjoy the view as lanterns of various, sizes, and styles light up the park’s Ryukyu-style buildings. Under the lights, buildings and streets in a traditional style will set a mood much different from other illuminations. Memorable scenes such as a stone-paved road lit with a line of Chinese red lanterns, and traditional Okinawan houses adorned with decorations of various shapes and lights. 

Ryukyu Lantern Festival at Murasaki Mura
DATE: Dec. 1– Mar. 31
TIME: 5:30 – 10 p.m. (last admission at 9:30 p.m.)
GPS COORDINATES: N 26.407128, E 127.719856
ADMISSION: 1,800 yen for adults; 700 yen for high school and middle school students; 600 yen for elementary school students; free admission for younger children.

Okinawa Nangoku Illumination

Tounan Shokubutsu Rakuen, or Southeast Botanical Gardens, is home to 1,300 different plants. People go there to see unique plants such as baobab trees, dragon’s blood trees, and Alexandra palms. However, when winter rolls around, shining lights add more reasons to visit the place.

The Okinawa Nangoku Illumination runs well into the year until May 26. The illumination add special splendor and colors to the garden’s lush green. Four million light bulbs modeled after lotus, waterfall, hibiscus, Emerald creeper and more will create fantastical scenes. Ranked second in the International Illumination Award (for the illumination event category dedicated to storytelling), this garden’s illuminations are now a winter highlight widely acknowledged in the country.

Nangoku Illumination at Southeast Botanical Garden
DATE:  Through May 26, 2024.
TIME: 5 – 10 p.m. (last admission at 9:30 p.m.)
GPS COORDINATES: N 26.375447, E 127.806597
ADMISSION: 2,150 yen for adults (18 and older); 1,250 yen for ages 13-17; 750 yen for ages 4-12; free admission for 3 years old and below.
*On Dec. 16, 17, Dec. 26 – Jan. 3, Jan 6 - 8, the above fees will be 2,500 yen (18 and above), 1,400 yen (Ages 13-17), 1,000 yen (Ages 4-12).
*From Dec.23 through 25, the above fees will be 2,800 yen, 1,500 yen, and 1,000 yen respectively.

Star Dust Fantasia at Kanucha Resort

This resort hotel near Camp Schwab hosts a large-scale illumination event. Its pool and beach will be a stage for various illuminations. Its main feature will be “STELLA PARK AVENU” where a chapel will be lit in many colors. A live music performance will take place every Saturday until Dec. 23 at the plaza near the chapel.

Star Dust Fantasia at Kanucha Resort
DATE: Until Feb. 14
TIME: 6 – 11 p.m. (subject to change, admission between 5:30 – 8:30 p.m.);
GPS Coordinates (N 26.548740, E 128.076245)
Admission: 3,000 yen per vehicle; Tickets can be purchased through the hotel’s website. Only credit card payment is accepted;


Illuminations at shopping malls

Mihama American Village Illumination:

Until Nov 24 – mid- March (subject to change); sunset – ; Mihama American village near Camp Foster and Kadena Air Base; free admission; This annual illumination returns to the popular shopping area. Buildings, palm trees, banisters, and more will don colorful illuminations.

WINTER ELEGANCE La Noche Brillante 2023-24

Until Feb.14 from 5 – 8:30 p.m.; Okinawa Outlet Mall Ashibinaa (N 26.159139, E 127.657608) near Naha Airport; free admission; This popular outlet shopping mall houses luxury brands such as Gucci, Armani, Salvatore Ferragamo, and more. This colorful illumination will provide more fun to your shopping experience.

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