Japan in the winter is a magical place for many reasons. Whether you like winter sports or relaxing in an onsen in the mountains, there’s a lot to choose from. But what if you live in a city? Well don’t worry, there’s still a lot to do but our favourite is to go see the Christmas Illuminations. Japan does illuminations like no other country and they’re everywhere. Best of all, most of them are free and many of them run from around November through to the end of January with. Here are our top picks from you.
1. Shiodome – Caretta Illuminations
Le Caretta Shiodome complex (カレッタ汐留) to the south of the city near Shimbashi is a great place to visit at most times of the year. This shopping centre has a lot to do and see anyway but each year puts on a spectacular display of themed lights. Two years ago it was the Canyon D’Azur or Forest of Spirits and last year it was Beauty and the Beast.
The theme this year is Disney Princesses. In particular, it’s focusing on Frozen and Tangled and the illuminations will follow sparkling patterns along to the songs from the movies. Why not head on down and sing along to ‘Let it go’ while you watch the lights twinkle. It’s quite the bright blue wonderland.
Location: Caretta Shiodome B2F Caretta Plaza
How to get there: It’s around a 5-minute walk from Shiodome, Shimbashi and Tsukijishijo
Duration: 15th November 2018 to the 14th February 2019 (except for the 1st and 2nd January).
Open hours: 5pm-11pm to the 31st December, 6pm-11pm to the 3rd January.
2. Roppongi – Christmas
Roppongi Hills is a popular place amongst the international community at most times of the year and even more so in the winter time. The incredible lights are accompanied by an excellent Christmas market where you can get your fill of bratwurst and gluhwein.
The most famous part of these illuminations is along Keyakizaka Street with 400m with 700,000 lights in blue and white and last year more than 7 million people visited. If it’s all a little much for you why not check out the garden at the Mori Tower that has a Kin no Kokoro installation to celebrate the areas 10th anniversary. It’s a much quieter spot to relax with your spoils from the Christmas market.
Location: Roppongi Hills, Keyakizaka Street, Azabu side
How to get there: Directly outside exit C1 at Roppongi Station.
Duration: 7th November to 25th December 2018
Open hours: 5-11pm
3. Shinjuku – Winter Illumination
There are many reasons to visit Shinjuku with plenty of shops, restaurants and a Godzilla or two but did you know that it has not one but two excellent sets of illuminations?
Firstly, there’s the Minami Lumi (新宿, ミナミルミ), a mix of lights and Christmas trees giving you something a bit different to the other displays around Tokyo and something a bit more traditional. It lines the south terrace of the area including the Takashimaya Times Square and the MAYNDs building.
Secondly, there’s the Shinjuku Terrace City Illuminations (新宿 テラスシティイルミネーション). These cover a pretty large area encompassing Odakyu ACE, Odakyu Hotel Century Southern Tower, the Southern Terrace and our favourite, Mosaic Street, which is lined with numerous pink lights that give you a warm glow as you go about your shopping.
Location: Around Shinjuku Station
How to get there: Shinjuku Train Station
Duration: 14th November 2018 to 14th February 2019
Open hours: 5-midnight and 4.30-midnight through December
4. Marunouchi – Illumination
With the backdrop of the Tokyo station, the Marunouchi Illuminations are one of the best in the city. Currently, in its 17th year, the organisers have gone all out with around 1 million golden lights covering more than 200 trees along 1.2km. They’ve also covered other streets and public sculptures, it’s really something else and you can see why it’s been so popular over the years.
For those of you that are a bit worried about the massive amount of electricity being used then you’ll be pleased to know that a large number of the lights used are eco-friendly and use around 65% less power.
Location: around Marunouchi
How to get there: around the Marunouchi exit at Tokyo Station
Duration: 8th November 2018 to 17th February 2019
Open hours: 17.30-11pm and 17.30-midnight through December
5. Megurogawa – Christmas
The Megurogawa illuminations or the “Minna no Illumination” are some of the most Japanese styled lights on display. With over 400,000 pink lights that will remind you of the cherry blossoms from spring and incidentally the cherry blossoms in the spring are just amazing.
With the 100% eco-friendly lights stretching around 2km down the river it makes a perfect romantic walk.
Location: Meguro River
How to get there: 5 minutes from Gotanda or Osaki
Duration: 9th November 2018 to 6th January 2019
Open hours : 5-10pm
6. Tokyo Midtown – Minna no Illumination
The Starlight Gardens are truly otherworldly. Located in Grass Square Park that covers 2,000m squared and has more than 500,000 lights across the display if you include the areas outside of the park and there are around 190,000 in the Park itself. This year’s theme is “The Universe” and takes the form of sparkling stars and planets across the display. There are also some special lit up balloons in the area as well as a special show leading up to the 16th December that incorporates around 450,000 soap bubbles to make the area even more spectacular and dreamy.
This spacey wonderland is something else and a good one to head to after the Roppongi Hills display as it’s not too far away.
Location: Midtown in the Starlight Garden
How to get there: Take exit 8 from Roppongi Station
Duration: 13th November to 25th December 2018
Open hours: 5-11pm
7. Shibuya – Ao no Dokutsu
The Blue Grotto situated in Shibuya, is possibly one of the most famous set of illuminations in Tokyo. Commonly known as the Ao no Dokutsu (青の洞窟) . These illuminations originally started in Nakameguro in 2014 and moved to Shibuya just outside of the NHK headquarters.
As you might have guessed the 600,000 lights that line this short stretch are all blue and there are strip lights along the site as well to make the avenue of trees seem like a blue cave as you wander through them. Extending along Shibuya Koen Dori Street down through Yoyogi Park it’s another magical winter wonderland.
Location: Shibuya Koen Dori Street ~ Yoyogi Park Keyaki Namiki
How to get there: It’s a short walk from Yoyogi-Hachiman or Harajuku Station
Duration: 30th November to 31st December 2018 and to 16th January at the Shibuya Koen Dori Street location
Open hours : 5-10pm
So which to choose? There are plenty of choices available on our list and a lot more are available on top of these too. Why not spend your winter in Japan exploring the Tokyo illuminations in 2018.