Okinawa’s all lit up for the holidays

Okinawa’s all lit up for the holidays

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Okinawa

From late autumn through winter, elaborate and colorful light displays – from the 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 6 million LED lights in synch with music. And at Yomiuriland Jewellumination in Tokyo, they will arrange 5 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.



OKUMA ILLUMINATION 2017: Through Feb. 28, sunsets-dawn; enjoy illumination at the front rotary, along with walkways at JAL Private Resort Okuma; free; 0980-41-2222;


KANUCHA RESORT STARDUST FANTASIA: Through Feb. 28, 6-11 p.m. on Nov. and Dec.,  7-11 p.m. on  Jan. 1 –Feb. 28; commemorating 20th anniversary of starting Kanucha Resort, illumination, 1,000,000 LED lights decorated with the theme of “Alegria” collaborated with music will bring you into fantasy world; 1,000 yen per person (advanced ticket), 1,500 yen per person (at doors), 3,000 yen for group pass (4 persons, advanced ticket), free elementary school students and for  a stay or a dinner; 80 minute ride from Naha Airport; 0980-55-8880;


ITOMAN PEACEFUL ILLUMINATION:  Dec. 16-Jan. 3, 6-10 p.m., until 12:30 a.m. on Dec. 31; 350,000 LED lights featuring the illumination, praying for Okinawa 1.3 million-people’s peace” at Itoman Kanko Noen, includes concerts and live performances on Dec. 25 at 7-9 p.m., fireworks on Dec. 25 at 9 p.m., and fireworks and a countdown on Dec. 31; 500 yen adults,  free for children; Heiwa-no Hikari Committee; 098-840-8135


SOUTHEAST BOTANICAL GARDEN NIGHT DECORATION: Nov.23-Feb. 18, 5-10 p.m.; Enjoy illumination decorated at Southeast Botanical Garden, also music, dance and laughter on weekends; 1,800 yen adults, 1,000 yen ages 16-18, 500 yen children, 2,000 yen adults on Dec. 22-25; 098-939-2555;


CHRISTMAS ILLUMINATION AT HOTEL NIKKO ALIVIA: Dec. 1-25; enjoy illumination at Garden Pool, pool side, and Christmas tree decorated with LED lights by sonar energy featuring the fantasy world; Hotel Nikko Alivia; free; 60-minute ride from Naha Airport; 098-982-9111;


CHRISTMAS FANTASY 2017: Dec. 22-29, 4-9:30 p.m.; events include 140,000 lights, laser beams and fireworks along with street dance, Okinawa eisa & drum, dance of world, concerts, snow show and attractions; Okinawa Children’s Kingdom; 15-minute drive from Okinawa Minami I.C., 50-minute drive from Naha Airport; 2,200 yen for adults/1,800 yen for advance tickets, 1,200 yen for children/1,000 yen for advance tickets, free ages 3 & younger; 098-933-4190;

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