The days may be getting shorter and colder, but even so, Tokyo doesn't turn into a dark and desolate place at this less than cheery time of year. In fact, as the city transitions from autumn into winter, millions of colourful LED lights are displayed in trees as well as on and around buildings, turning Tokyo into a sparkling wonderland.
We've listed our top picks of where to admire these illuminations, which are, of course, best enjoyed in good company. So layer up, grab your scarves and head out to see Tokyo at its brightest and festive best. It’s gonna be lit.
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Tokyo's finest light shows
The Oi Racecourse, aka the Tokyo City Keiba, will be lit up during the nighttime races with colourful illumination. What's more, there will be a 'time travel area' featuring designs and artworks from the Edo, Meiji, Taisho and Showa eras, as well as a 100 metre tunnel covered in lights, making it the biggest illumination in the Kanto area. Making a detour to the racecourse has never been more worthwhile.
Ignore the risque name: Sagamiko Resort Pleasure Forest will be pulling out all the stops for its winter illumination show. It will apparently use the largest amount of lights in the entire Kanto region (around six million LEDs, if you're counting). The showcase features a wide range of colours, accompanying music, and light constructions that take advantage of the fountains and lush greenery at the park. You can still enjoy the amusement park rides (including the ferris wheel) at night, so take advantage of this opportunity to enjoy the sparkling forest scenery from a different viewpoint.
The Hotel New Otani's Japanese garden will be lit up through the end of February. Loved by many as a veritable oasis in the middle of the city, the garden sees an illumination set to highlight the beauty of nature. It's a lot to explore, as the historic garden has a 400-plus-year history and covers a whopping 10,000 tsubo (about 33,100sqm) of space. Go take in some serene nature in the middle of the city – with a bit of LED on the side.
Yomiuri Land's annual winter illuminations tend to bedazzle even the most jaded traveller. As the name suggests, jewels are the focus here: literally millions of colourful LEDs are set up throughout the vast area, which is split into 12 areas. You can also expect a 25-metre tall dazzling mountain inspired by the Matterhorn and lit-up roller coasters. If you're looking for the most OTT illumination experience in Tokyo, this should be it.
While the Moominvalley Park is not in Tokyo per se, it’s still worth the roughly one-hour trip from Ikebukuro Station. During the park’s winter illumination event – based on the iconic troll’s fifth book ‘Moominland Midwinter’ – you can expect a colourful and immersive spectacle complete with projection mapping, lights and sound.
Finland’s northern lights, the Aurora Borealis, will be recreated around the Moomin troll's highly Instagrammable house. The 10-minute show takes place at 6.30pm, 7pm and 7.30pm. There’s also a massive four-metre tall 'Christmas tree' decorated with quirky ornaments in the shape of musical instruments, which will start playing as soon as you step under the tree.
The rooftop garden at Ginza Six is piling on the romance for the year-end holidays. The illimunination feature calming water elements and sparkling LED pillars (there are 147 of them), turning the space into a star-filled galaxy come nighttime. In line with this concept, the 'forest' area has been turned into a small planetarium, with laser lights shooting through crystals to create an immersive night scene.
One of the top illuminations in Tokyo in terms of scale – it boasts hundreds of thousands of LEDs strung all around the complex – Tokyo Dome City’s light-up has a traditional Japanese theme this winter inspired by cherry blossoms, Mt Fuji, the Tanabata Festival and more. You can also look forward to a 6m-tall lit-up yagura (high wooden stage) commonly seen at Tokyo's Bon-odori festivals, glowing wisteria and other quirky contraptions, while the restaurants and cafés around the facility offer special winter menus.
Toshimaen’s massive illumination event this year sees plenty of colourful lanterns in various shapes and sizes. The amusement park's ‘Flower Forest’ is decorated with tulip- and rose-shaped lanterns while large castle- and candy-shaped ones turn the central ‘Soreiyu Hiroba’ space into a fairytale-like setting. Make sure to catch the musical entertainment that's supported by light and sound effects, and there's also a projection mapping show that's synchronised to music at the nearby attraction Flying Pirates.
Come December, just about every entertainment hot spot in Japan sets up a unique illumination display to brighten up the longer nights, so it's only natural that Hakkeijima Sea Paradise puts on its own ocean-themed light display for visitors.The aquarium will be particularly romantic this time of year as nearby buildings will be decked out in lights. In addition, there's a ‘light tunnel’ measuring 100 metres long as well as glowing installations featuring wales, dolphins, penguins and polar bears that can measure over eight metres high.