My FAVES: Illumination Fun in Japan

My FAVES: Illumination Fun in Japan

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Okinawa

Today, the holiday season in Japan is synonymous with amazing illuminations throughout the country. Beginning in November, various parks, buildings and gardens are set ablaze by the brilliant illuminations that help ring in the holiday spirit with their dazzling beauty.

I love the beauty of this winter tradition, and the warm and brilliant lights feel like an appropriate way to end another year. While strolling in the bright streets at night, I can’t help but reminisce about the people and places I encountered over the year.

Here are some of my favorite places to check out the winter fun. I like them not only because they offer impressive illumination displays, but the locations themselves are also attractive in their own right.

Most of these sites are free, so visit one near you and enjoy the happiest season in Japan with the millions of bright lights.


- Tokyo Midtown Christmas Illumination

Photo courtesy of Tokyo Midtown

Located just a seven-minute walk from Hardy Barracks, Tokyo Midtown offers one of the nation’s most popular illumination sites. Alongside Roppongi Hills, there is a lot more than just lights to keep you busy.

Named “The Starlight Garden 2019,” 190,000 blue-based LEDs and 100 glowing balloons create a breathtaking view of the planets and stars. This year, bubbles over the illuminations, along with two 26-foot “Space Towers” will add a special effect to the lights, according to the event provider.

During the day, this beautiful garden offers an oasis for Japanese salarymen to take a breath and relax in the hustle and bustle mid-town of Roppongi, an ever-busy business and entertainment district. It is fun strolling around Roppongi before or after enjoying the illuminations.

Every year the line for the garden seems to get longer during Christmas week, so if you’re not a fan of waiting, the sooner the better to check out this Tokyo highlight.

Period: Nov. 26 – Dec. 25 (Trees and gardens are illuminated between Nov. 14 and Dec. 25)
Hours: 5 – 11 p.m.
Location: 9-7-1 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 
Tel: 03-3475-3100

- Tokinosumika Winter Illumination

Photo courtesy of Tokinosumika

Just a 30-minute drive from Camp Fuji, hotel and resort Tokinosumika offers a large illumination display called “Hikari-no-Sumika” (home of lights) every year.

Gotemba, where the resort is located, is a city located at the base of Mount Fuji, so there is the added excitement of viewing Fuji-san. Other attractions in the area include Fuji Five Lakes, Fuji Safari Park and Sengen Shrine.

When I last visited here, I was so astonished to see its extremely long and brilliant tunnel of lights made up of countless of bulbs and ornaments. It was a fantastic experience strolling through the quarter-mile long light tunnel with my wife and daughter. My daughter, who was in elementary school, was wowed by the lights and still remembers it fondly.

According to the resort, the tunnel has expanded this year and the sequenced sets of illuminations, figures and ornaments tell the story of a beautiful princess who is going to participate in a dance party.

You can see a couple of 120-year old fir Christmas trees lit up with illumination in the site, as well.

Besides the free attractions, you can also enjoy an impressive multimedia show featuring 3D mapping, music and a 150-meter tall water fountain on its “Castle Hill” for 1,000 yen or 200 yen for elementary schoolers.

Period: Oct. 27 – Mar. 17
Hours: 4:30 – 10 p.m.
Admission: Free: Tunnel of Light, Twin Tree; 1,000 yen (200 yen for elementary schoolers): Castle Hill
Location: 719 Kamiyama, Gotemba City, Shizuoka Pref. 
Tel: 0550-87-3700

- Yokohama Milight

Photo courtesy of Minatomirai 21
Grand Mall Park Illumination Office

Yokohama is an elegant, romantic port city where colorful illuminations really stand out.

Yokohama Milight Illumination project wraps the center bay area of Yokohama City with a nearly one-mile-long colorful illumination that connects JR Yokohama Station and Minatomirai Station. The illuminations light up the Yokohama Minatomirai area with the backdrop of majestic Landmark Tower, Bay Bridge and Marine Tower.

While strolling through the lights you may want to drop by Dockyard Garden behind the Landmark Tower. On the bottom of the dry dock, you can see a large ship-shaped blue illumination made up of 100,000 LEDs while cheerful Christmas music is played.

Another must-see is a colorfully decorated, 26.23-foot tall Christmas tree that stands near the garden.

The walk through Yokohama Bay this time of year is truly gorgeous, and an easy trip for those on Yokosuka, Zama and Atsugi.

Period: Nov. 14 – Feb. 16
Hours: 4 - 11 p.m.
Location: From JR Yokohama Station (East Exit) to Dockyard Garden (Landmark Tower) 

- Hiroshima Dreamination

Photo courtesy of Hiroshima Lightup

This site, about a one-hour drive from MCAS Iwakuni, is found in Hiroshima. The city with its six large rivers and dozens of bridges, fountains and water monuments has earned Hiroshima its moniker – “The City of Water.”

This time of year, the center of this beautiful city is lit up with the Hiroshima Dreamination project, which draws more than 600,000 visitors every year.

This year, this large-scale illumination project presents a “Fairyland” with 1.4 million lights. Colorful lights fill Peace Boulevard, a major road running from East to west through downtown, along with Namiki Street and Alice Garden. While blue and white-based illuminations around Rijodori St. create the “Blue Island,” the area around Namikidori St. and Chuodori St. presents “Green Island” with green and white-based LEDs. The light shows are offered every 15 minutes from 5:30 – 10:30 p.m. through Jan. 3.

Period: Nov. 15 – Jan. 3
Hours: 5:30 – 10:30 p.m.
Location: Center streets of Hiroshima
Tel: 082-554-1813 

- Nagasaki Bayside Illumination

Photo courtesy of JR Kyushu Agency

These illuminations are about a two-hour drive from Sasebo Naval Base in Nagasaki, a port city and home to many tourist attractions.

Every year, the central bay area of the city is illuminated by the Nagasaki Bayside Illumination project.

Among the attractions beautifully lit up is Glover Garden, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a must-see site offering a glimpse into how Europeans lived in southern Japan in the olden days. The nine historical, western-style buildings in the garden are decorated with colorful illumination and 3D projection mapping through Dec. 25. While strolling through the buildings, you can enjoy a breathtaking panoramic night vista of downtown Nagasaki City from the hilly garden.

Oura Catholic Church, a designated national treasure and another UNESCO World Heritage site, is located just behind the park and is also lit up.

Don’t miss a stroll from the church to Nagasaki Museum, as the route offers you fantastic views and reflections on the surface of the river along the street.

Period: Nov. 22 – Dec. 25
Location: center bayside of Nagasaki City
Hours: 5 p.m. – varied depend on the sites

Glover Garden
Hours: 5 - 9 p.m.
Location: 8-1 Minamiyamate, Nagasaki city, Nagasaki Pref.
Tel: 095-822-8223

Oura Catholic Church
Hours: 5 - 10 p.m.
Location: 5-3 Minamiyamate, Nagasaki city, Nagasaki Pref.
Tel: 095-823-2628

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