We’re not trying to squash the romance and wonder of the season, but Tokyo winter illuminations have become something of an arms race with the various districts trying to out-gun each other with more and more fantastically produced illuminations.

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.

Anyway, screw the analysis, here’s our list of the best and twinkliest (in a rough best to least best order).

Note: Some of the annual illumination events have been canceled for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, some photos in this article are of past events.

1. Tokyo Mega Illumination

Edo Sakura Tunnel Oi Keibajo
Edo Sakura Tunnel at Tokyo Mega Illumination 2020 | Photo by Gregory Lane

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.

2. Roppongi Hills Christmas 2020

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.

3. Midtown Winter Lights 2020

Snow Globe Midtown winter lights
A giant snow globe at Tokyo Midtown Winter Lights 2020 | Photo by Gregory Lane

This is hands down one of the most popular displays in Tokyo. However, the 2020 event has been 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 past years, the event ended on December 25th, but this year, the runtime is extended until the end of February.

4. Marunouchi Illumination 2020

illuminations tokyo marunouchi/ginza
Photo by iStock.com/kanzilyou

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.

5. Tokyo Dome City Winter Illumination 2020

Tokyo dome christmas illuminations
Photo by iStock.com/kanzilyou

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.

6. Ebisu Garden Place 2020

Ebisu Garden Place Christmas chandelier
Ebisu Garden Place Christmas chandelier 2020 | Photo by Dan Castellano

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.

7. Tokyo Skytree Dream Christmas 2020

skytree christmas lights
Photo by iStock.com/yaophotograph

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!!”.

8. Yomiuriland Jewellumination 2020

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.

You can choose between a viewing ticket or a pass ticket which includes access to all of the rides. Those on a foreign passport can receive a discount by completing a short survey here.

9. Kioi Winter 20/21

Kio Winter Lights from Benkeibashi
Kio Winter Lights from Benkeibashi Bridge | Photo by Gregory Lane

Featuring a 10 meter tall Christmas Tree and Tokyo Garden Terrace’s disctinctive giant stag symbol, Kioi Winter 20/21 runs from November 2020 until Valentine’s Day 2021. You can get some striking pictures from nearby Benkei Bridge, which you will cross if you are coming from Akasaka Mitsuke.

10. Akasaka Christmas Illumination

Akasaka Sacas Christmas Illumination
Akasaka Sacas Christmas Illumination 2020 | Photo by Gregory Lane

This small but very intense light up is particularly popular with couples on dates (Christmas is Valentine’s Day part II of course.) There is a giant illuminated love heart with a small stand to rest your smartphone on for that super romantic selfie. The lights are located right next to exits 1 and 3 of Akasaka Station. The lights are on each evening until February 14th.

Illumination Events Canceled for 2020/21

The following events have been canceled due to COVID-19, but we hope they’ll be back for Winter 2021/22.

Caretta Shiodome Illumination 2020 – *Canceled*

Caretta Shiodome
Photo by iStock.com/coward_lion

This event has proved to be such a hit with Christmas light-up junkies (many rank it as the best in a competitive field) that the event now goes until mid-February. That eases the crowds slightly around the 24th of December.

Last year’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 next year’s theme.

Omotesando Hills Christmas 2020 – *Canceled*

Omotesando illuminations
Photo by iStock.com/chachamal

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. To dissuade the masses of merry visitors from taking that dreamy stroll along the Omotesando strip, 2020’s event has been canceled (i.e. the lights will not be put up).

Shibuya Blue Cave Illumination – *Canceled*

Shibuya Blue Cave winter illumination festival
Photo by iStock.com/CHENG FENG CHIANG

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 the past couple of years, 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.

Shinjuku Terrace City Illuminations – *Canceled*

Shinjuku Terrace City Illumination in  tokyo , Japan
Photo by iStock.com/BestForLater91

There will be brightly lit statues, overhead creations and trees aplenty, all perfect to get you in the mood for festive shopping.

Autumn Evening Illumination at Rikugien Gardens – *Canceled*

Rikugien autumn illuminations
Photo by iStock.com/baihoen

OK, it says “autumn” but at least half of it is in winter so it still counts. This is the ‘anti-Christmas’ with up-lighting illuminating the brilliant hues of the changing autumn leaves. If you visit in spring, you can also catch some excellent cherry blossom themed displays too. Note: The illuminations are canceled for 2020, but the garden is still open.

This post is updated every year and throughout the winter season. Last update: December 7th, 2020.
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