The what’s, where’s and when’s of Tokyo’s Winter Illumination

Unlike in other places in the world, Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan. This is understandable because statistics show that less than a third of the country’s population are actually Christians by faith. However, this fact does not stop the locals from enjoying the festive holiday. A lot of experts believe that this fantastic buzz and excitement over the Christmas holidays can be attributed to the strong influences of media and commercialization in Japan.

Usual Japanese Christmas decorations are the typical kinds many are familiar with. There are Santa-themed decoration, lanterns, reindeer and much more through almost all commercial establishments all over the country. Homes have their own Christmas trees adorned with interesting Japanese-themed details and ornaments like origami, paper fans, Japanese lanterns and much more.  Most decorations are in the English language as well, especially since the word Christmas does not have a direct Japanese translation.

Japanese-style Christmas is not like any other as they have their own unusual traditions. It is common for the men of the household to buy what is known as a ‘Christmas Cake’ to share with the family during dinner on Christmas Eve. Along with this, it is best matched with KFC’s fried Chicken thighs and legs.

According to some, Christmas is more like Valentine’s in Japan where couples go out on romantic dates than it is a family holiday just like anywhere else in the world. So, when visiting Japan during Christmas, it might be a good idea to eat in other places other than KFC as the lines are surely going to be long with sweet couples trying to get a decent Christmas meal.

For those who are surprised about these unusual Christmas traditions, it might be a good idea to remember that Christmas was only introduced to the Japanese during the modern times. Furthermore, Japan has turned Christmas into an even more awaited event through an impressive display of lights and scenery. Christmas in Japan is not all about the traditional Christmas cake or the KFC, it means so much more.

What is the Culture of Illumination in Japan?

One of the things that many local and foreign tourists enjoy at this time of year is the light display events known by many as the Winter Illumination Festival of Japan. These are incredible light displays held every year throughout the country that turns any cold, snowy night into a twinkling wonderland. It might be a great idea to visit these illumination destinations because fireworks are not too common in Japan during the New Years.

Every town and city in Japan have their own pride and glory - spots and locations which are highly visited by tourists at this time of the year. A lot of them hold contests of different categories to ensure that the entire community is involved. Here are a few of them:

The Festival of Lights Osaka

Originally established in 2015, The Festival of Lights in Osaka was a 51-day event that opened from November of 2015 until January of 2016. It is a two category program that has illuminated the entire region of Osaka from North to South with the Mido-Suji Illumination and Hikari-Renaissance Illumination events.

Kilometers upon kilometers of streets have been adorned by synchronized changing lights that the event has won a world record for “the street with the most number of light decorations on street trees”. Mixtures of different colors were used to add color to Osaka’s wintery nights.

With an estimated number of visits to be millions, the event was a success because locals from all over the region worked hand in hand to fulfill the mission of promoting tourism in Osaka.

Kobe Luminarie

This particular event is held every year in Kobe and is not only launched to celebrate Christmas. The Kobe Luminarie is held every year to commemorate the lives that were lost in the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. Since then, the nights of Kobe are always its brightest during December of every year.

Damage caused by the earthquake has declined the tourism in the region. It is only with the help of the 21-year old winter illumination festival that Kobe finally stood up to rebuild their region’s tourism. What makes this annual event even more special is that some major roads are automatically closed to vehicle traffic to allow safe admission of visitors.

This is so they could have a larger space to appreciate the lights and decoration. On top of that, all the lights which are used are hand-painted and are run on biomass generated electricity. Even though it fulfills its tasks in turning lonely, dark nights into brighter ones, it makes sure that it is still safe for the environment.

Sagamiko Illumillion  in Kanagawa

The Sagamiko Illumillion in Kanagawa was opened in October of 2016 and will stay open to the public until April of 2017. The sloping meadow is covered by a blanket of twinkling lights that look like glowing flowers. The garden has trees that are wrapped with colorful Christmas lights. There are tunnels adorned with rainbow like arrangements made from strings of LED. It is the best manifestation of illumination nature, which is the combination of the beauty of nature with LED technology.

There are guides and maps available at the venue since it is pretty massive in size. At the bottom of the slopes are establishments that visitors can enjoy after the illuminating tour. For the month of love in February, this is the perfect place to go to for a romantic date.

For those who wish to visit, it will be opened until the Cherry blossom festivals of spring in April just for an admission fee of 600 Yen.

Sapporo White Illumination

With the region’s beautiful scenery and landscape, LED displays twinkle ever more brightly against Sapporo’s snow. The Sapporo White Illumination is one of the most awaited times of the year because of the beautiful contrast of color against the white of the snow.

Literally Japan’s winter wonderland, Sapporo is the best place to enjoy some snow sports and activities. It is also one of the best places to enjoy some relaxation time. There could be nothing more relaxing, after a full day of sports and activity, than to enjoy the Sapporo White Illumination which features LED displays that look as if frost and snowflakes are glowing against the dark sky.

Tokyo’s Winter Illumination

The center of the commercialization of Christmas in Japan, Tokyo is one of the best places to be during the holiday seasons. Almost every structure has its own display. Every district throughout Tokyo has its own show of light displays. Going to Tokyo to enjoy the winter illumination festivals is definitely worth every Yen spent. Anyone can enjoy the beautiful lights while shopping and dining.

Where are the best places to enjoy Tokyo’s Xmas Illumination?

Tokyo Dome City Illumination

Known as one of the best winter illumination display in Tokyo, the Tokyo Dome City Illumination is the biggest of its kind. It is built to show centuries-worth of diplomatic relations between Italy and Japan that it features some iconic Italian LED displays such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The best thing about this is that admission is free and they are usually open until Feb.

The Tokyo Dome City Illumination is located in Koraku, Bunkyo-Ku. Most visitors access it via the Kusaga Station from the Mita, Oedo Lines (Exit A1), the Korukuen Station from the Marunouchi, Namboku Lines (Exit 2), and the Suidobashi station from the Chuo-Sobu Line (West Exit).

Tokyo Roppongi Illumination

With a theme of ‘Artelligent Christmas’, the Roppongi Hills illumination in Tokyo is one of the most visited places in Japan every December. This is because of its accessibility to the subway. The entire street is decorated with colorful LED attractions of varying color. The theme of the Tokyo Roppongi Illumination features the warm glow of candles and amber in contrast to snow and blue of the last year.

The entire street features restaurants and shopping centers so visitors can enjoy the dinner and drinks while enjoying the light attractions. It is also located quite close to the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo. It is located in the Roppongi Keyakizaka-Dori Street which could be accessed directly from the Roppongi Station from the Tokyo Metro.

Odaiba Illumination YAKI

It features the "Illusion Dome" attraction that uses world-class technology wherein the displays change at par with the motion of the visitors. It is one of the best Christmas destinations in Japan because it gives its visitors the holiday cheer all-year-round since it opened in Nov of 2014.

It is located in Decks Tokyo Beach and is quite close to the Tokyo Tower and Rainbow Bridge. It is a one-minute walk from the Odaiba-Kainhinkoen Station of the Yurikamome line. The place is also close to restaurants such as the popular Tonkatsu Wacko, the most visited Ehukai Beach food stalls and Island Vintage Coffee Daiba.

Shinjuku Terrace Illumination

One of the simplest, yet also one of the most enjoyable, this illumination display is what lights up the Shinjuku area of Tokyo. It features lights between the leaves of the trees which make it look like tiny fireworks on the ground.

It could be best accessed the Shinjuku Station (South Exit). The overhead walkway that connects the Shinjuku Station and the Southern terrace give the most impressive view of the details of the attraction. Anyone could take a sit at the Starbucks coffee shop just right next to it to quietly enjoy the lights while sipping warm coffee.

Caretta Shiodome Winter Illumination

Unlike other winter illumination displays in Japan which could be accessed in parks and gardens, the Caretta Shiodome winter illumination is found inside a building. It is located inside the Shiodome mall where visitors could enjoy some snack and shopping after viewing the Christmas Light attractions.

It is located in the middle of towering skyscrapers and hotels, it is just a few minute walk from and is accessible through the Shiodome-Shinbashi station.

When is the best time to enjoy winter Illumination in Tokyo?

Since there are numerous winter illumination displays all over the country, it is understandable that they don’t start and end at the same time. On average, most winter illuminations in the country open on average between November to February of every year. Most destinations open at around mid-Nov and close at around mid-Feb.

However, there are certain illuminations that open much earlier on October. For those who have missed the illuminations during the winter season, there are some that close much later at around March and April. So for those traveling to Japan during spring, it might be a good idea to research about which illuminations are still open by visiting their official websites.

The great thing about this is that there are some, just like the Odaiba Illuminations, that open throughout the year. This gives tourists of Japan to enjoy Christmas without the snow.  As for their official schedules, most illuminations open at around 17:00 in the afternoon and stays open until midnight. It would be a good idea to check out the traffic conditions in the area before going to these holiday destinations.

Who goes to the Winter Illumination Tokyo?

Winter Illumination in Tokyo is enjoyed by any person of any age. It is best enjoyed by the family as touring a sea of lights can be a great bonding activity. Also, it gives an eye for wonder and curiosity for children. The impressive display of blinking and twinkling lights are most enjoyed by the young ones.

Going to illumination festivals is also a good idea for an unforgettable date night, as well. Instead of having candlelit dinner in an expensive restaurant, why not go out to enjoy tourist spots that work hard to give a delight for the eyes. 

Sometimes, these illumination festivities are great marketing venues for companies. As there a few destinations where there are bazaars at the entrances or exits of event venues. These are great ways for small entrepreneurs to widen their network and marketability.