11 Must-see Winter Illuminations in Tokyo

Winter is almost here, but in Tokyo, the lights are already shining brightly. It’s one of the things I love most about the city. And the season. Every year in late November and early December, millions of tiny, glittering bulbs illuminate parks, plazas and shopping districts throughout Tokyo. Some displays last for quite a while after the new year. Others dim their lights at the end of December. While it’s not exactly like Christmas back home, the sparkle makes it feel like I’m not so far away.

Midtown Christmas Illumination

One of Tokyo’s most dazzling displays is the Midtown Christmas Illumination. Tokyo Midtown is complex of shops, restaurants, hotels, offices and even apartments located in Roppongi. It’s kind of fancy and completely beautiful. And every year in late November it lights up the nights with a stunning show of twinkling lights throughout its gardens.

If the line to see the glow of this wondrous winter wonderland is any indication, you won’t be disappointed. I like to grab a hot cocoa from the Starbucks at the corner where the queue normally starts to keep me warm and bring a few friends. That makes the wait feel a little less long. And once you get to the lights, you’ll hardly remember the delay. ūüėä

Rows of trees are covered in brilliant LEDs that lead to the Starlight Garden. There, you’ll witness a gorgeous display of animated lights and music. I’ve been to this illumination several times, and every time I’ve been this area has always been extremely crowded. There’s not a lot of shoving or anything, but be prepared to wait for people to leave to get a closer view of the display. The line is in the shape of a letter U. If you go toward the end of the of the U it gets easier to get a spot up close. ūüėČ

Rows of trees are covered in brilliant LEDs that lead to the Starlight Garden. There, you’ll witness a gorgeous display of animated lights and music. I’ve been to this illumination several times, and every time I’ve been this area has always been extremely crowded. There’s not a lot of shoving or anything, but be prepared to wait for people to leave to get a closer view of the display. The line is in the shape of a letter U. If you go toward the end of the of the U it gets easier to get a spot up close. ūüėČ

This year (2018), the illumination started on November 13th, and it goes on until Christmas Day. The lights starting shining at 5:00 pm and dim at 11:00 pm every night. For an extra whimsical experience, visit by December 16th! The creators have added bubbles for a limited time in 2018. Admission to Midtown Christmas Illumination is also free!

You can get to the show by taking one of several metro lines that go to Roppongi station. You want to get out through Exit 8. From there follow the signs to Tokyo Midtown. There will be signs for the illumination once you exit the station. 

Yebisu Garden Place

Next on the list is the Baccarat Eternal Lights exhibit at Yebisu Garden place. This¬†illumination is located in one of my favorite¬†neighborhoods in Tokyo–Ebisu. These lights are splendid, and the ornate Baccarat chandelier never disappoints. But what I really love about it is that it has a real Christmasy vibe.

Most visitors come to see the Baccarat. Each year, a new, amazing fixture gleams from the center of Yebisu Garden Place. The exquisite crystal creation is five meters in size and is encased in a large glass box. And if you’re in the mood to be fancy, or just like champagne, you can enjoy some in a special baccarat glass at the champagne bar (open now through December 25th only).¬†

My favorite part is the huge Christmas tree surrounded by a small Christmas market on the other side of the red carpet (yes, there’s really a red carpet ūüėä). There are about a dozen little kiosks selling food, drinks,¬†and trinkets. It reminds me of the Christmases I spent in Germany.

The lights at Yebisu Garden Place are on display every day until February 28, 2019, from 4:00 pm until midnight. The market ends on Christmas day. Admission for the lights is free here is also free (champagne sold separately).

To get to the festivities, simply take the metro or JR line to Ebisu station. Leave the station through the East Exit and follow the signs to Yebisu Garden Place. 

Showa Park

It’s not exactly in central Tokyo, but the sparkle of Showa Park’s Winter Vista Illumination is worth the trip. Showa Park is located in Tachikawa, which is a 40ish minute train ride from Shinjuku. The park has several gardens, playgrounds, picnic areas, and even paddle boats for visitors to enjoy during the day. And for a few short weeks in December, it opens its gates at night so guests can take in thousands of shimmering lights carefully hung on trees, fountains, and fields.

I’ve been enchanted by the Winter Vista Illumination the last four years. The champagne glass fountain makes an appearance every year, but the theme for the rest of the park changes. This year’s theme is Night Picnic. A variety of food vendors set up stands with outdoor seating, and the park cafe stays open during the illumination so you can enjoy a hot cup of coffee (or a cold beer) while enjoying the lights.

Showa Park’s lights don’t last quite as long as some of the other illuminations in Tokyo. Winter Vista begins December 8, 2018, and ends on December 21, 2018. The gates open at 5:00pm and close at 9:00 pm, with the last admission at 8:50 pm. Admission is ¬•450 for adults, ¬•210 for seniors (65 and older), and free for children in junior high and younger (bring proof of age).

To get to Showa Park, take the Chuo JR Line to Tachikawa station. From there it’s a short walk. The Nishi Tachikawa station takes you right to the park, but that entrance isn’t open for the illumination.

Odaiba Illumination Yakei

The view of the Rainbow Bridge is a great reason to visit Odaiba any time of year, but the festive lights and fireworks in the month of December make Odaiba Illumination Yakei a must-see. Odaiba has a few pretty big shopping centers, a wax museum, an indoor amusement park and a small beach with cruises that take guests on tours around the bay. And in the winter, when the sun goes down, more than 200,000 tiny bulbs glisten brilliantly.  

The illumination here isn’t as elaborate as some of the other ones in and around Tokyo, but it’s still amazing. More than 20 trees across from the Decks shopping center in front of the beach brighten the night and lead to an enormous Christmas tree made up entirely of lights. The Tokyo Skyline and Rainbow Bridge shine in the background. The view is incredible. ūüėć

Every Saturday in December at 7:00 pm, the view gets even more astonishing. Explosions of color illuminate the sky for about ten minutes over the Rainbow Bridge. About 2,000 fireworks are launched each week. If you can’t make it to Odaiba in December, you can still enjoy the lights in January. Odaiba Illumination Yakei gleams until January 31, 2019, and it’s completely free.

There are a few ways to get to Odaiba. Taking the Yurikamome Line to Odaiba Kaihin Koen Station gets you closest to the beach and the illumination. 

Roppongi Hills Winter Illumination

Roppongi Hills Winter Illumination is another favorite of mine. It’s not a show or a presentation. But it’s so pretty. Roppongi Hills another shopping and entertainment complex in Roppongi. It’s where Mori Tower and the very famous spider sculpture are located.¬†

Christmas trees and decorations adorn a good part of Roppongi Hills, but the main illumination is on¬†Keyakizaka Street. Dozens of trees covered in effervescent LEDs that change colors line the street for about a quarter mile. Tokyo Tower stands tall in the distance. It’s lovely. And romantic. The German-style¬†Christmas market (and the gl√ľhwein ūüć∑) makes it that much better.

The festivities at Roppongi Hills have already started and last through Christmas day. The street lights up at 5:00 pm every day until 11:00 pm. The market opens every day at 11:00 am and closes at 9:00 pm, but go early because the food sells out! Admission to both is free.

The easiest way to get to Roppongi Hills is by metro (Roppongi Station). Leave the station through exit C1, and follow the signs to Roppongi Hills.

Omotesando Illumination

Harajuku a really fun district to visit without any lights. It’s a great place to shop, eat and people watch. Going in¬†December is just more beautiful. Omotesando Street is full of gorgeous champagne-colored lights that are strung on more than a hundred Zelkova trees.

There isn’t a show that accompanies these lights. It’s just a festive atmosphere in a fun part of town. There are two pedestrian bridges along Omotesando Street that allow you to get a good view of the lights. There are also plenty of shops and eateries along the one-kilometer illumination for you to do some Christmas shopping while enjoying the view. There’s also a smaller, but brilliant, light display of icicles and a Christmas Tree inside the Omotesando Hills shopping mall.

The last day to catch both events in Harajuku is December 25, 2018. The street illumination starts every day at sunset and ends at 10:00 pm. The one in the mall starts at 11:00 am and ends at 11:00 pm every night. Admission to both is free.

The lights are just a short walk from Omotesando, Meijijingu, and Harajuku stations. Just exit toward Omotesando Street and you will see them!

Tokyo Dome City Winter Illumination

Tokyo Dome City also has a fantastic winter-lights spectacular. This illumination is one of the biggest I’ve been to; it spreads out through the entire Tokyo Dome City entertainment complex. And I’ve heard that it has the flicker of over two million lights. ūüė≤

My favorite parts of the illumination are the sparkling, detailed dome and the tunnel of vivid, chromatic light panels. But there’s a lot more to see than just that. There’s a beautifully decorated fountain,¬†a path of arches that resemble a kaleidoscope and a Christmas tree made of origami cranes. The amusement park stays open at night, too so you can take in the brilliance from the roller coaster or the swings.

This illumination lasts until February 17, 2019, so you have plenty of time to check it out. The lights switch on at 4:00 pm and go out at midnight every night. Admission to Toyko Dome City is free.

You can get to Tokyo Dome City by train on the JR Chuo Line (the yellow one, not the orange) via Suidobashi Station, or by metro on the Marunouchi and Namboku Subway Lines through Korakuen Station or on the Oedo and Mita Subway Lines via Kasuga station.

Shibuya Ao no Dokutsu

Shibuya Ao no Dokutsu, also known as The Blue Cave, is another one of Tokyo’s most popular illuminations. It might be because it’s located in one of Tokyo’s most frequented neighborhoods, but even if it weren’t it’d be worth the visit.¬†

Trees along an 800 meter stretch of¬†Koen Dori Street are wrapped in vibrant blue LEDs, creating a magical canopy of glittering lights. The glow radiates throughout the space, turning everything indigo. The lights don’t change or move or flicker; they just shine. And while this display is simple, it’s still very magical.¬†

The Blue Cave is open to visitors every day until New Year’s Eve from 5:00 pm until 10:00 pm. Admission is free.

Caretta Shiodome

Caretta Shiodome is one of my absolute favorite illuminations in Tokyo. Each year they create a magical world of lights with a Disney movie theme. Last year (2017-2018), it was Beauty and the Beast. This year, the creators feature two beloved fairytales in two separate shows: Tangled and Frozen. The illuminations rotate each week so you will have to visit twice to catch them both.

The display at the Shiodome is more of a performance. It’s not just a static presentation (which can also be very beautiful) of glimmering LEDs. It has music and motion. It tells the princess stories magnificently, in a quick 10 or so minutes. Maybe it’s because I’m a huge Disney fan, or because I love the magic of fairytales, but, in my opinion, the enchanting lights at Caretta Shiodome are a can’t-miss!

The Frozen/Tangled illumination started November 15, 2018, and goes through February 14, 2019. Shows start daily at 5:00 pm in December and 6:00 pm in January and February (they’re closed on January 1 & 2) and play in 15-minute intervals. AND… if you show up for the first show, you’ll also experience a special, dynamic Incredibles 2 performance. ūüėĀ Admission to Caretta Shiodome is free and the presentation ends every night at 11:00 pm.¬†

You can get this spectacular by train through various JR Lines (Shimbashi Station) or metro lines (Shiodome Station).

Yomiuri Land Jewellumination

This winter lights extravaganza is super impressive. Like Showa Park, it’s not in central Tokyo, so a little travel is required. But it’s¬†only a short drive away. The millions of jewel-toned LEDs carefully hung throughout Tokyo’s largest amusement park make the trip worth it.

The entire park is covered in lights and a few areas that have unique musical exhibits. All of the rides are open at night. My favorite is the gondola, but the Ferris wheel is fun, too. The radiance of the lights from up there is truly amazing.

The Jewellumination lasts until February 17, 2019. The lights turn on at 4:00 pm and the park stays open until 8:30 pm. The park opens at 10:00 am and you can buy tickets for the entire day for ¥5400 for adults, ¥4300 for high
and middle school students, ¥3800 for kids 3 years old to elementary school age, and ¥4500 for seniors. They also have night passes for a reduced cost, and a night entrance (which only includes entrance to the park without access to the rides) for an even lower price. Click here for more details price information.

I drove here; I think it’s easier. But you can take the train. The Keio Line toward Hashimoto gets you pretty close. But you still have to walk a mile from the Keio-Yomiuri-Land Station.

Address: 4015-1 Yanokuchi, Inagi 206-8725

Tokyo Tower

The last illumination on my list is the one at Tokyo Tower. Tokyo Tower is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. There are several special exhibits and illuminations here throughout the year. The winter illumination is kind of a two-parter.

Tokyo Tower Winter Fantasy is a small display at the base of Tokyo Tower. It features a large 60-year old Christmas tree and several smaller ones decorated in orange (the symbolic color of Tokyo Tower). Twice an hour between 4:00 pm and 10:00 pm, at the hour and 30-minute mark, there’s a ten-minute light and music show that plays.

In the tower, you can catch Tokyo Tower City Lights Fantasia White Night Story. It’s a projection mapping display that will make you feel like you’re watching the city through the snow. It’s on the second floor of the main observatory.¬†

The¬†Tokyo Tower Winter Fantasy display is available until February 28, 2019. The lights come one every day at 4:00 pm and turn off at 11:00 pm. Tokyo Tower City Lights Fantasia White Night Story runs only until February 3, 2019. It’s available daily from 6:00 pm to 10:50 pm.¬†

You can get to Tokyo Tower by taking the metro (Toei Oedo Line) to¬†Akabanebashi Station. It’s a quick five-minute walk from there.

The Mountains Are Calling

I can’t begin to tell you how much I absolutely love the snow. I’m like a kid in a candy store when I see it or am in it. So many people dread and despise it. I’m the the opposite. And luckily, it never seems to be too far away. I took this photo during a very recent road trip through the mountains of the Tochigi Prefecture in Japan. It was a completely spontaneous trip. We decided we needed some mountain adventures in our life, so we jumped in the car and started driving. A few hours later, we were freezing our asses off in the snow and enjoying every minute of it!

This part of Japan is incredibly picturesque, with gorgeous views, historic sites, and a variety of natural hot springs. There are also lakes and waterfalls in the area, which I’m sure are far more pleasant in the summer. I’ll definitely be back for some springtime hiking.

 

All of the Lights in Inagi

In many countries, city streets light up for a few weeks during the holiday season. But in Japan, there are winter illuminations. Thousands of lights twinkle brightly in beautiful patterns, sometimes synchronized with music. Streets, parks, and specific sections of cities light up in November and stay lit through early January. Some even keep their sparkle as late as mid-February.

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I’m just a big kid, and I LOOOOOOVE lights. So it goes without saying that winter is one of my favorite times of year in Japan. I’m ALWAYS looking for displays. There’s just something so exciting and magical about seeing all these tiny bulbs flicker and glow.

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One of the most impressive illuminations I’ve seen is at Yomiuri Land in Inagi. Yomiuri Land is a small amusement park in the Tokyo Prefecture, and every year, from October to February, it puts on a Jewellumination. Millions of gem-colored lights glitter in ornate arrangements put together by light designer Motoko Ishii.

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The whole park is covered in lights. And there are a few areas that have unique musical exhibits. One of the coolest parts is riding the gondola; the views are spectacular. The Ferris wheel is fun, too. The radiance of the lights from up there is truly amazing. At least I think so; I went with my favorite six-year-old and she was also impressed (and she’s a little hard to please).

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Most (if not all) of the attractions and food booths are open during the Jewellumination. Most of the rides are for children, with the exception of one roller coaster, a free fall tower, and a bungee jump. But it’s a great place for kids. The pricing is a little weird though; some rides are not included in the park entry fee (you can also purchase entry-only tickets for less if you just want to walk around and enjoy the sparkle). The lights turn on at 1600 and the park stays open until 2030.  Yomiuri Land is not very big, and, when we went, the lines weren’t very long. A trip here doesn’t have to be an all-day event. But it’s certainly fun, and the glimmer is definitely worth the trip.

Let It Snow in Aomori Spring

As temperatures drop and days get shorter, many find themselves longing for summer… Wishing for warmer conditions, nine o’clock sunsets and hours by the pool (or beach). Enduring snow, ice and below freezing temperatures is not something a lot of people look forward to. But with wintertime comes hot cocoa, snowmen, and, most importantly, the thrill of winter sports.

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While many dread the arrival of winter, I wait for it like a child waits for Christmas or summer vacation–impatiently and excitedly. I watch the forecast and snow reports incessantly, eagerly anticipating the start of ski/snowboarding season. I wouldn’t call myself an expert (or even good) by any stretch of the imagination. But I can’t wait for the mountains to finally have enough snow on them for me to clumsily tumble down the slopes on my snowboard. I look forward to it every year.

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Snowboarding is one of my most favorite activities. I love how it makes me feel. It’s relaxing and exhilarating and freeing all at the same time. I relish feeling the wind on my face as I glide down the mountain. And I always feel ecstatic when I learn to do something that I couldn’t do before. It is physically tiring, and sometimes even a little painful, but totally worth it.

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Snowboarding is awesome, but not all resorts are created equal. Don’t get me wrong, it’s unlikely that I’ll turn down the chance to board, regardless of where. However, there are some locations that far better than others. And then there are those that are just incredible. One of my favorite places to snowboard is in Ajigasawa, Japan. The Aomori Spring Ski Resort isn’t super big, but it’s also not overly crowded (which I love). It features 14 trails, four lifts, and a gondola. About half of the trails are for beginners (perfect for kids and a novice like me), 30% are for intermediate skiers and snowboarders and 20% are for the experts. The quality of snow at this resort is excellent (lots of powder). It was like gliding on clouds, and spending a few days on the slopes at this resort was heaven. The main trail is 3.4 kilometers, and while not extremely steep (the max slope was only 18 degrees) or difficult (it’s a beginner run), the landscape was diverse and beautiful. More advanced skiers and snowboarders may not enjoy this resort as much as I did. But there is plenty terrain to go off-piste and the resort also has a big half-pipe for the more adventurous types.

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I also really enjoyed Aomori Spring because it offers night-skiing and boarding. This was the first resort I ever boarded at night at, and it was really great. I half-expected the snow to be harder or icier, but it wasn’t. It was soft and fluffy, and the courses were very well-lit. However, only two of the lifts are open for night skiing and none of the advanced trails are accessible after 1700.

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The amazing cabin cul-de-sac we stayed at when I visited this resort, though, was what really made this trip for me. At Aomori Spring, you can stay at the very nice and very elegant Rockwell Hotel. It offers comfortable, Western-style rooms with views of the slopes. It has a bar, restaurant, spa, and onsen, and the hotel is situated at the foot of two of the main lifts. But we wanted something a little more private and spacious, so we opted to stay in the little cabin village just a few minutes down the mountain (think fancy camping). The little wooden cottage was fully furnished and featured a kitchen, two full beds, and a loft space. There are only about ten of them, and they are surrounded by thick, snow-covered trees. It’s a wonderful place to start and end your day. Access to the lifts from the cabins is easy, and you’re close enough to the hotel to take advantage of its amenities. However, you’re just far enough away to feel secluded and really appreciate nature. It’s what made this getaway feel that much more relaxing and adventuresome.

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Prices:

The prices at this resort are incredibly reasonable. A full-day (8 am to 5 pm) adult pass cost me 4700 Yen (about $45), and night skiing/boarding is available for only 2800 Yen ($25-ish) from 4:30 pm to 9 pm.

How to get there:

The easiest way to get there is to drive. You can take a couple of trains, but that still doesn’t get you to the resort. You would have to take a taxi to get there from JR Ajigasawa Station. There’s a free shuttle from the station if you stay at the Rockwood Hotel. I drove to the resort and found it to be super simple and way more convenient (note: I almost always opt for convenience, especially when I’m limited on time). Plus, I’ve ridden the Japan Railway enough times to feel confident that I wasn’t going to miss anything. Rental cars are available at the Aomori Aiport (just reserve it in advance); the drive takes about an hour.

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