Ah, winter! When the residents of Japan celebrate the festive season with cream covered sponge cakes, buckets of KFC, and visits to love hotels. Even if you can’t bring yourself to partake in these fine traditions, it’s well worth making the effort to enjoy some of the spectacular Christmassy light-ups that proliferate throughout Tokyo.
Until recently, it was all about the number of bulbs—LEDs make it possible to string up tens of thousands of twinkly lights without draining all the electricity from the power grid or electrocuting birds on a rainy day. Now, the light-up game has changed with projection mapping, digital choreography and interaction being used to draw in an audience.
Here’s our list of the best and twinkliest (in a rough best to least best order).
Note: Some of the more popular annual illumination events are still not happening 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Tokyo Mega Illumination
Unlike the other places on this list, Tokyo Mega Illumination is a destination in itself—not just a ploy by a shopping area or a mall to get you to shop while you’re in the area. As such, the organizers have pulled out all the stops. In total there are 15 different illumination installations spread over an enormous area. The ample breathing space is reassuring during these times as some of the other places on this list can get a little bit crowded. Admission is ¥800 for adults and ¥400 for kids if you buy your tickets in advance.
Tokyo Mega Illumination
|Advance sales: ¥800||On the door: ¥1,000|
|Advance sales: ¥400||On the door: ¥500|
2. Roppongi Hills Christmas 2021
Going all out with the Christmas lights, Roppongi Hills has a few different spots to visit in an evening. The West Walk and Roku-Roku Plaza will have special trees, including one trimmed with red velvet Polish-style ornamanets, but the big guns are saved for Keyakizaka—the 400-meter-long street that runs down a gentle slope on the Azabu side of the Hills. There are about 700,000 LEDs glowing in the theme of “Snow Blue” (i.e. white and blue). There’s also a cute photo-op spot of a (cut-out) horse-drawn carriage.
Roppongi Hills Christmas Illumination 2021
3. Omotesando Illumination 2021
After a break in 2020, the Omotesando Illumination is back! The mature zelkova trees, the wide sidewalks, and the fancy shops make Omotesando one of the top illumination spots each winter. There aren’t really any gimmicks—you just go there and walk up and down the street strewn with 900,000 lights.
4. Marunouchi Illumination 2021
Calling the Marunouchi Illumination a “Christmas illumination” is a bit of a misnomer as it seems to be “on” each year for about the same time as it’s “off”. Nonetheless, this illumination is one of the classier ones—with cobblestone streets, 220 roadside trees, public sculptures, and the reproduced facades of big banks, this is probably the closest you’ll get to a ye olde European-style Christmas light-up. They’re using 1.2 million “eco-illuminations” lights (in champagne gold, the classiest of colors) that perform with 65% less power than standard. For an added Christmassy touch, head over to the Mikimoto Christmas tree on Chuo Dori.
Marunouchi Illumination 2021
5. Tokyo Dome City Winter Illumination 2021
Something about the size and all the open space around Tokyo Dome makes it seem really, really cold in winter, but the 2 million twinkly LED lights make up for it. The theme for 2020 is fittingly Smiles x Illumination.
Tokyo Dome City Winter Illumination
6. Ebisu Garden Place 2021
The Ebisu Garden’s Baccarat Eternal Lights champagne-gold illumination definitely goes heavy on the amps. The area in front of the main tower is typically flooded with fairy lights, illuminated bells, a giant chandelier and anything else they can find to make it extra bright and shiny. The chandelier will turn blue every 30 minutes in the evenings in honor of medical workers.
Ebisu Garden Place Illumination
7. Tokyo Skytree Dream Christmas 2021
The Skytree (and Skytree Town) will be decked out in colorful finery for the festive season in line with this year’s theme of “Holy Good Time!!”.
Tokyo Skytree Dream Christmas 2021
8. Midtown Winter Lights 2021
This is hands down one of the most popular displays in Tokyo. However, 2021 is basically a rerun of the 2020 event—reimagined with simple tree lights and installations—instead of the usual large-scale multimedia production that sees thousands of visitors (and hundreds of security guards) every evening. In previous years, the event ended on December 25th with monster crowds. But this year (like last), the runtime is being extended until the end of February.
Midtown Winter Lights 2021
9. White KITTE
Running from November 24th until December 25th within the KITTE shopping mall next to Tokyo Station, White KITTE is a unique Christmas light-up event featuring a large tree and decorations. The point of difference to all the other events is that everything is made from washi—traditional Japanese paper. With the Marunouchi Illumination and a Harry Potter themed light up happening nearby, this is sure to be a hugely popular free show.
10. Kioi Winter 21/22
Featuring a 10 meter tall Christmas Tree and Tokyo Garden Terrace’s disctinctive giant stag symbol, Kioi Winter 21/22 is set to run from November 2021 until Valentine’s Day 2022. You can get some striking pictures from nearby Benkei Bridge, which you will cross if you are coming from Akasaka Mitsuke.
Kioi Winter 21/22
Honorable mention: Shinjuku Southern Terrace Illuminations
Confirmation of the dates came a little late for it to be included in our list, but this illumination event is on, and well worth checking out if you’re near the South Exit of Shinjuku Station.
Shinjuku Southern Terrace Illumination
Illumination events (still) not happening in 2021/22
Illumination events sometimes attract massive crowds, so some organizers are still justifiably hesitant about running their events in case there is an upsurge of COVID-19 infections. The following events have either been canceled or there is no sign of them happening this year. We hope they’ll be back for Winter 2022/23!
Caretta Shiodome Illumination 2021 – *Not being held*
This event was a massive hit with Christmas light-up junkies (many rank it as the best in a competitive field). 2019’s show was an Aladdin-themed Arabian extravaganza with live performances throughout each evening. We’re looking forward to seeing what fantastical theme will be chosen for the 2022 theme.
Caretta Shiodome Winter Illumination 2021
Shibuya Blue Cave Illumination – *Not being held*
A cave made up of trees (much nicer than a real cave in our opinion), this illumination is one of the most magical thanks to the impressive colors. Originally held in Nakameguro and moved to Shibuya for 2018 and 2019, it draws huge crowds for good reason. The 600,000 LED lights are strung up on an 800 m route between Shibuya and Harajuku and you can access it from either station.
Shibuya Blue Cave Illuminations
Yomiuriland Jewellumination 2021 – *Canceled*
Yomiuriland is an amusement park less than an hour away west of Shinjuku Station on the Odakyu Line. The winter illumination at Yomiuriland is justifiably named “Jewellumination” seeing as Motoko Ishii—a famous Japanese lighting designer—blingified the entire amusement park with literally millions of LED lights.
Need more holiday cheer in your life? Check out these Tokyo Christmas markets.