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 Keyakizaka street next to Roppongi Hills is lit up in sparkling white and blue lights until Christmas Day. From the pedestrian bridge near the Roppongi Hills Arena, you'll get a stunning view of the shimmering lights with Tokyo Tower in the backdrop. For more festive Christmas vibes, check out the Roppongi Hills Christmas market nearby.
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.
Marunouchi Naka-dori, always one of the most popular Tokyo illumination spots, will be lit up with countless champagne-coloured, extra-low energy LED bulbs this year too, making for a display that's as environmentally friendly as it is stylish. Just strolling down the glittering street, which is lined with fancy boutiques and cafés, makes for a nice post-dinner date option.
This annual wintertime display at Yebisu Garden Place incorporates a Baccarat chandelier that's 5m tall and 3m wide, making it one of the largest chandeliers in the world. Plus, it's decorated with 250 lights, 230 of which symbolise the number of years from the company’s establishment to the construction of the chandelier in 1994. In total – including lesser displays in areas such as the Entrance Pavilion, Clock Plaza, Promenade, Center Plaza and Glass Square – the venue makes use of almost 100,000 lights.
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.
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.
Yokohama's Yamashita Park is popular for its beautiful rose garden, and now you can see this floral patch lit up beautifully for Christmas until December 27. About 1,900 roses of 160 varieties are illuminated with LED lights, creating an awe-inspiring and romantic atmosphere. Look out for the special light show every 15 minutes. In conjunction with this event, a special cocktail named 'Snow Rose' will be served at selected bars in Tokyo and Kanagawa prefecture. For location details, check the event's official website.
The opulent Hotel Chinzanso in Mejiro opens up its gorgeously decorated garden during the autumn leaves season, lighting up the lush grounds at night to produce one of the city's most beautiful foliage shows. Head over a little bit later in the evening if you want to escape the crowds – the garden stays open until 10pm. (Note: you have to be staying or dining at the hotel to venture into the garden.)
The Meguro area's annual Minna no Illumi has found a novel solution to the issue of massive energy consumption during the illumination season. The over 400,000 pink LED lights used in the display – which will light up a stretch of the Meguro River near Gotanda Station until January 5 – are all powered by locally generated electricity using biodiesel derived from waste oil collected from local homes and restaurants.
The rooftop garden at Tokyu Plaza Omotesando assumes a Christmasy spirit from the beginning of November, when 16,000 lightbulbs give the space a warm orange glow. Wear your warm jacket, grab a bento and try a wintertime picnic under the pretty LEDs.
Living up to its name, Tokyo's most recognisable bridge will once again be lit up in all the colours of the rainbow for the Christmas and New Year's season (Dec 7-Jan 5). Sure adds a nice touch to the bay view, no? Five-minute firework shows are scheduled for every Saturday between December 7 and 28 (from 7pm).
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.
The Skytree and its surrounds go into Christmas mode from November, with the pathways connecting the tower with Tokyo Skytree and Oshiage stations decorated with hundreds of thousands of LED lights. Don't forget to check out the German-inspired Solamachi Christmas Market and its ample selection of seasonal sweets and mulled wine, massive Christmas tree and live performances.
A light exhibition directed by Seiichi Saito of Rhizomatiks, an expert of media art and expression through technology. This sparkling display can be seen at Shinko Central Plaza, which is just beside the city’s iconic ferris wheel, Cosmo Clock 21. The lights go on from 6pm to 9pm, and displays are interactive, with digital content revolving around sports and games as well as visual art.
As is customary, the Shinjuku Terrace illumination takes place around the Southern Terrace and the Odakyu Group-controlled area that reaches toward the West Exit. 2019's theme is 'Colours', giving each of the different areas a specific colour with sparkling elements to enjoy. Partially visible from Yamanote line trains, this one always gets our spirits up around the holidays.
Always one of Tokyo's most popular light-up shows, the Omotesando illumination is back as an annual occurrence, with some 900,000 champagne-coloured LED lights shrouding the zelkova trees that run between the Jingumae and Omotesando crossings.
Dubbed Ao no Dokutsu ('Blue Cavern'), this illumination show was a huge hit when it first took place along the Meguro River back in 2014. Brought back to Shibuya a couple of years ago, it will again engulf the backstreets of Shibuya in a mysterious glow until New Year's Eve. Set up along a 800m stretch covering Koen-dori all the way to Yoyogi Park, thousands of blue LEDs reflect off the ground to create an immersive light-up experience.
The Tokyo Midtown illuminations are particularly famous for the 'Starlight Garden' lights around the spacious Midtown Garden area, creating a magical setting with over 100,000 blue LEDs. This year, the event will include 100 lit-up balloons plus thousands of soap bubbles every day. To top it off, the intergalactic-inspired light show will project artificial stars and moons high into the sky over Roppongi, showing everything from their birth to their eventual demise.
This Shiodome shopping complex always puts a lot of effort into its Christmas light-ups, and this year is no exception. This season, the Caretta Illumination will have an 'Arabian Night' theme inspired by the Disney film 'Aladdin'. It's blatantly commercial, sure, but still worth a quick look on a dark winter evening, specially since it's only a short walk away from Ginza. Just like last year, the illumination display will stay up until Valentine's Day.
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.
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.
This family-friendly Christmas event at Sanrio Puroland in Tama city features the two characters Kiki and Lala, who are also known as the Little Twin Stars. The new show ‘Kiki & Lala Illumination: Twinkle Sparkle!’ uses 500,000 lights and laser effects to create a dazzling set. Besides the popular musical show ‘The Puro Christmas’, you can also look forward to the new attraction ‘Magical Snow II’, which adds snow and stars to popular spots inside the park through projection mapping. Make sure to shop for winter-limited souvenirs and fuel up on adorable character-themed dishes at the on-site restaurants.
Shopping mall Bay Quarter in Yokohama boasts a massive 8m-tall fir tree that's decorated with 15,000 lights. At every hour on the dot, you can watch a sparkling light show called ‘Champagne Spark’. Make sure to move a bit closer towards the base of the tree to check out the many miniature houses laid out to resemble Santa Claus’ hometown. The mall's rooftop garden is decked out with illuminations as well, complete with a scenic photo spot featuring Santa's house.
Chapelle des Anges chapel in Minami-Aoyama gets into the Christmas spirit by affixing hundreds of shiny champagne-gold elements to its ceiling to create a mesmerising view of a starry sky. From December 1, you can write a wish on a bell and put it on the Christmas tree outside the chapel (Wed-Mon 5pm-7pm; free). There are live performances, too: the ‘Symphonic Gospel Concert’ on Dec 17 (tickets available here) promises to be a rousing music showcase while the ‘Christmas Candle Night x Mini Christmas Concert’ on Dec 22 (reservation essential) will serenade you with festive Christmas tunes in candle light.
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.
Get your camera ready as you walk through the ‘vertical tube’ at Akasaka Sacas that's equipped with LED lights which are capable of creating 16.7 million colours. The lights are synchronised to seasonal music, so you can expect different tunes at different times, ie Christmas, Valentine's Day, etc.
The spacious Japanese garden at Shirokanedai's Happo-en stays open until 10pm during the autumn foliage season. Admire the fiery red momiji maple trees reflected off the surface of the garden pond while sipping on a cocktail sold at the on-site Garden Bar. Also, make sure to jot down December 5 in your calendar – that's when you can enjoy the tunes of DJ Shuya Okino in the beautiful autumnal landscape.