If you’ll be around town during the end of the year, or just want to catch a bit of Tokyo’s celebrated illuminations before you head back home for a break, this is an excellent guide to the glittering city, courtesy of the good folks at Tokyo Cheapo. So dress warmly, grab a warm beverage, and get ready to get lit!
We’re not trying to squash the romance and wonder of the season, but winter illuminations have become something of an arms race with the various districts of Tokyo 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 the punters.
Anyway, screw the analysis, here’s our list of the best and twinkliest (in a very roughly best to least best order).
1. Tokyo Michi Terrace: Dec 24 to 29
Tokyo Michi Terrace is a projection mapping illumination that has happened for the last couple of years on the Marunouchi side of Tokyo Station. The 2012 version featured projection mapping directly on to the newly restored facade of the station and was so popular that it was actually canceled on one night due to the traffic disruption.
The theme of this year’s show is “Memorial Light-up” in recognition of the 100 years since the station opened. It’s unclear at this stage whether there will actually be a projection or if it will just feature multi-colored LEDS. However, the organizers do promise that “Art object” of various popular characters will be scattered around the Otemachi, Marunouchi and Yurakucho neighborhoods.
More info here. (In Japanese)
2. Shiodome Caretta Illumination 2014: Nov 13 to Jan 12
The theme of this year’s illuminations at Caretta in Shiodome is “Canyon d’Azur.” 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 has been extended for an extra couple of weeks into mid-January. This should hopefully ease the crowds slightly around the 24th of December.
The show features approximately 25,000 LEDs and if it follows last year’s pattern, will happen every 20 minutes beginning at 5 pm with the last show at 10:20 pm. There may be extra late shows closer to Christmas.
3. Roppongi Hills Artelligent Christmas 2014: Nov 4 to 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.
More details here.
4. Midtown Christmas 2014: Nov 13 to Dec 25
This is hands down one of the most popular displays in Tokyo. If you dare to go there on December 24 (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.
5. Omotesando Christmas: Dec 1 to Jan 4
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 “tree” decorated with 30,000 bulbs which change color.
More on the Omotesando Hills website (Japanese).
6. Marunouchi/Ginza: Nov 13 to Feb 15
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, 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 Christmassy touch, head over to the Mikimoto Christmas tree on Chuo Dori.
7. Tokyo Dome City Winter Illumination: Nov 6 to Feb 15
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. If that’s not enough, they’re connecting the whole thing to a Microsoft Kinect so you (or presumably a limited number of people) can interact directly with the lights by flapping your arms around and jumping up and down. It’ll keep you warm too.
More info here. (in Japanese)
8. Ebisu Garden Place: Nov 8 to Jan 12
The Ebisu Garden Place 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. This year, the illumination is confusingly divided into two parts—a Christmas illumination running from Nov 2 to Dec 25 and “Baccarat Eternal Lights” running from Nov 8 to Jan 12.
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 Sky Tree Dream Christmas 2014: Nov 1 to Dec 25
The Sky Tree 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.
Sky Tree info here (in Japanese).