The LED illuminations that pepper Tokyo every winter conjure festive – and not so festive – imagery as they wash across the capital’s night-time skyline. Some of the most vivid displays feature in a relatively compact area of downtown Tokyo.
This walking itinerary will guide you past and through some of the most iconic cityscapes to be seen during winter nights in Tokyo, punctuated by a heady toast and festive cheer in the Yebisu Garden Place Christmas Market. If you want to avoid the roaming herds of camera-wielding nuisances on your leisurely stroll – and let’s be honest, who doesn’t? – early on weeknights is prime time for illumination viewing.
Kickstart the tour after dark at Ao no Dokutsu (“blue cavern”) leading from Shibuya’s backstreets to Yoyogi Park. The devil is in the detail here, as a tunnel of 600,000 crystal blue lights envelops the barren trees of koen-dori, creating a fantastical cavernous effect on the pedestrian-only walkway. The LED hues bring to mind the bioluminescent world of James Cameron’s Pandora – minus all the things that want to eat you. Stroll along the path which culminates at the Fortune Bell, which you can toll if you’re so inclined. A 15 – 20-minute walk to the east from here will bring you to your next stop: Omotesando.
Those in charge of urban design in Omotesando are no strangers to ostentatious grandeur. A fact highlighted in winter by the golden fairy lights clinging to the trunks of deciduous zelkova trees which flank its main thoroughfare. The illuminations, created by the folks at Google Pixel, periodically dance in tandem with a Christmas jingle playing from speakers along the footpath. On quieter evenings it’s a lovely walk, set against the backdrop of imposing glassy shop fronts and neo-modern architectural facades.
Once you get to the Omotesando Station end of the avenue, you may have built up an appetite (or at least a thirst). If so, pop into Commune 2nd, the closest thing in Tokyo to LA’s hip food truck scene. It’s a semi-outdoor eating and drinking venue, where Tokyo’s resident expats often congregate under the large bulbous veranda. There are a selection of trucks serving everything from vegan cuisine or bratwurst sausage to European beers and craft coffee. You could certainly do worse than an Erdinger or Yona Yona ale, along with the karaage in carrot sauce – delicious, believe me.
When you’re ready to make tracks again, head for the Artelligent display at Roppongi Hills (20 – 25 minutes approx.). Artelligent has become a winter icon in recent years, thanks to its proximity to Tokyo Tower. From an observation bridge in the Roppongi Hills complex, you get a clear view down the meandering road of silver and blue lights, with Tokyo Tower rising into the sky like a fiery spike smack bang in the middle of the distance. It may look romantic, but don’t expect to be up there alone; a podium-like structure has even been erected to facilitate the invariable swarms of amateur photographers.
Bring your evening to a close at Yebisu Garden Place, undoubtedly the most ‘Christmasy’ of this walking tour’s illuminations. The walk from Roppongi Hills will take around 30-35 minutes (but if you’re feeling sluggish or just busting for a steamy cup of hot spiced wine, it’s only two stops on the Hibiya Line to Ebisu Station).
Under the towering glass dome of Yebisu Garden Place is a Baccarat crystal chandelier, casting a regal gaze toward the foot of another tree-lit walkway. This one is markedly shorter, sloping gently upwards to a resplendent Christmas tree at the top. Surrounding the tree are little wooden cabin-stalls, decorated with baubles and festive wreathes. Take a seat on the benches, which look out upon the Garden Place, while sipping on mulled wine or hot chocolate. Assorted nibbles and knick-knacks like candles and handicrafts are also available at the market.
Feature image by Shawn.ccf | Shutterstock.com