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 very roughly best to least best order).
1. Caretta Shiodome Illumination 2016-17: Nov 17-Feb 14
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. This should hopefully ease the crowds slightly around the 24th of December.
The show features approximately 250,000 LEDs and accompanying music—and will take place every 20 minutes beginning at 17:00 and going until 23:00. There may be extra late shows closer to Christmas. The Shiodome is closed for Jan 1 and 2, 2017)
2. Roppongi Hills Artelligent Christmas 2016: Nov 14-Dec 25
Although there is a Christmas tree and the garden inside, Roppongi Hills has some lights strewn around it, the big illumination happens along Keyakizaka—the street which runs down a gentle slope on the Azabu side of the Hills. There are about 1,200,000 LEDs shining up the place turning from a “Snow and Blue” theme to “Candle and Red”. Lighting goes from 17:00-23:00 everyday.
More details here.
3. Midtown Christmas 2016: Nov 15 to Dec 25
This is hands down one of the most popular displays in Tokyo. If you dare to go there on December 24th (don’t!) then you will be greeted by hundreds of security guards herding the tens of thousands of champagne-carrying couples into a squishy mass of humanity on the edge of a sea of twinkly blue. It starts in mid-November, so just go early. This year the event’s boasting 180,000 lights and a new “starry sky illumination” technology.
4. Omotesando Hills Christmas 2016: Dec 1-25
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. If you feel like a moment of ponderance, pop into Omotesando Hills to view their Christmas tree decorated with 30,000 bulbs which change color.
More on the Omotesando Hills website (link in Japanese).
5. Marunouchi/Ginza 2016-17: Nov 10 to Feb 19
Calling the Marunouchi Illumination a “winter 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, 200 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. This year, they’re using “eco-illuminations,” lights that perform with 65% less power than standard. For an added Christmas-y touch, head over to the Mikimoto Christmas tree on Chuo Dori.
Lighting time is from 17:00 until 23:00 (and until 24:00 during the month of December)
More details here. (Link in Japanese)
6. Autumn Evening Illumination at Rikugien Gardens: Nov 19 to Dec 7
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.
More about the event in our events section.
7. Tokyo Dome City Winter Illumination 2016-17: Nov 10 to Feb 19
Something about the size and all the open space around Tokyo Dome makes it seem really, really cold in winter. Perhaps for this reason, they’re trying really hard to get you to go and see their winter light-up. This one features a mind-boggling 2 million LEDs. This year will feature iconic Italian themes in celebration of 150 years of Japan-Italian relations. Take a spin through Venice and Pisa, and see the friendly witch Befana who delivers treats to children during the holiday season.
8. Ebisu Garden Place 2016-17: Nov 5 to Jan 9
The Ebisu Garden’s Baccarat Eternal Lights illumination definitely goes heavy on the amps. The area in front of the main tower is typically flooded with fairy lights, illuminated bells, chandeliers and anything else they can find to make it extra bright and shiny.
The Ebisu beer hall provides alternative entertainment if you get bored of the lights after 10 minutes.
More info on the Garden Place website (in Japanese).
9. Tokyo Skytree Dream Christmas 2016: Nov 10-Dec 25
The Skytree will be decked out in Christmas finery for the next two months, and will also be surrounded by a “Christmas market” selling things like German-made ornaments, beer, sausage, and the like.
Skytree info here (in Japanese).
10. Yomiuri Land Jewellumination 2016-17: Oct 14-Feb 19
Yomiuri Land is an amusement park less than an hour away west of Shinjuku Station on the Odakyu Line. The winter illumination at Yomiuri Land is justifiably named “Jewellumination” seeing as Motoko Ishii—a famous Japanese lighting designer—bling-ified the entire amusement park with 4 million LED lights.
*Note that the night admission (16:00 and on) is 1,000 yen for adults and 500 yen for high school and junior high school students. Full ticket info here.
Here for more info. (Link in Japanese)
Bonus Illumination: Cherry Winter Illumination: Oct 21 to Jan 15
A shout out to this illumination reminiscent of springtime in Ueno Park—famous for its cherry blossom-lined paths. While very pretty, it’s not exactly winter-y/Christmas-y—but definitely worth the stroll!
Need more holiday cheer in your life? Check out these Tokyo Christmas markets.
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