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Top 10 Winter Illuminations to See in Japan for 2016

Tokyo illuminations? Pfft. It’s all about the bright lights beyond.

Festive, impressive and romantic (or, full of couples, depending on your situation), illuminations are one of the best things about winter in Japan.

But despite what the internet suggests, while the capital does transform into a twinkly Christmas wonderland all the action doesn’t just take place in Tokyo. In fact, towns and cities across the country jump aboard the light-up train in varying degrees of spectacular-ness, ranging from delicate tree decorations to choreographed light and music shows.

In no particular order, we’ve listed a selection of our favorites across the country that are worth traveling to, wherever you happen to be in Japan.

1. Nabana no Sato Winter Illumination, Mie

October 15 2016 to May 7 2017

Pictures are worth a thousand words; or in this case, around eight million LED lights at the Nabana No Sato park in Mie Prefecture. Running from mid-November to mid-March, this is one of the country’s biggest and best winter illuminations. Every year has a theme. For 2016, the “Beauty of Mother Nature” takes center stage. Expect epic light displays, as well as the famous light tunnel. We’ll just leave this image here.

2. Kobe Luminarie, Kobe

December 2 to 11 2016

One of Japan’s oldest illumination events, Kobe Luminarie was conceived in memory of the victims of the Great Hanshin Earthquake. Now, the impressive light festival draws millions of visitors each year. You’ll have to shuffle in step with the crowds to see the displays – a collaborative design between Italian and Japanese artists that makes you feel you’ve been transported to Europe in LED.

3.Tottori Sakyu Illusion, Tottori

December 10 to 25 2016

In Japan, you generally wouldn’t associate winter with sand but this evening event hosted on Tottori’s majestic sand dunes means that, well, you can. With gravity-defying sand art, projection mapping and light tunnels crossing the dunes, this is Lawrence of Arabia disco-style. 2016 is also the first time that the lights will be spread across the whole of the dunes area. It’s a great chance to see the dunes in the winter, which look even more stunning at night.

4. Sagamiko Illumillion, Kanagawa

October 22 to April 9 2016

The punny name wins points for this illumination event, featuring more bulbs than ever before (six million if you’re counting). Billed as a 360-degree light-up, this winter’s theme is “Swans.” You can view the displays from the amusement park rides that stay running into the night, and there’s plenty of food and drink for sale. It’s bold, it’s brash, and, dare we say it, beautiful.

5. Tokushima LED Art Festival, Tokushima

December 16 to 25 2016

Pioneering technological art collective teamLab are heading this digital illumination display held every three years in Tokushima, dubbed locally as “the city of water”. Different exhibitions will be taking place in and around the city’s 138 rivers, including a “Shimmering River of Resonating Spheres.” Considering the incredible digital works teamLab has come up with in the past (including an extraordinary interactive light show in Odaiba), it’s worth packing your bags and making a trip of it.

6. The Kingdom of Light, Huis Ten Bosch, Nagasaki

October 29 2016 to May 7 2017

Taking up almost the entirety of this Dutch Theme Park in Nagasaki, you’ll need several hours to explore the Kingdom of Light, made up of a whopping 13 million bulbs. The amazing light waterfall which hangs from a height of 66 meters is apparently one of the best night views to be had in Japan. There’s also an enormous electric dragon, a 3D balloon street and a lit-up zoo. Even the tulips are illuminated. As they say in Holland, “wauw!”

Photo by machu.

7. Fantaseum, Lake Yamanaka, Yamanashi

November 19 2016 to January 3 2017

Weekend fireworks running up to Christmas accompany this illumination event at the base of iconic Mount Fuji. The light displays are your standard romantic spectacle but it’s the surrounding scenery that makes this one special. In February, the Ice Candle Festival takes place to coincide with “Diamond Fuji”, the week when the sun sets directly over the summit of the mountain. Whenever you go, you’ll have more than enough options for a soak in a hot spring afterwards.

8. Caretta Shiodome, Tokyo

December 5 2016 to February 14 2017

Tokyoites attest that you can count on the Shiodome shopping complex to put on a good display of winter illuminations. Every twenty minutes, a dazzling audiovisual spectacle takes over the plaza, featuring pillars of light and rainbow-colored movements set to a rousing soundtrack. There’s tons of time to catch this show with your date, as it’s staying up until Valentine’s Day. Aw.

9. Flower Fantasy, Ashikaga Flower Park, Tochigi

October 22 2016 to February 5 2017

Relive the seasons at Ashikaga Flower Park where the illuminations are created to replicate the park’s famous flower shows, including the beautiful hanging wisteria. Attracting an increasing number of people every year, the organizers are stepping up the plate for 2016 with even more bulbs, covering almost every inch of the park, as well as audiovisual shows, tunnels and projections. Flower power has never looked this bright.

Photo by Hideya Hamano.

10. Hakodate Winter Festival, Hakodate

December 1 2016 to February 28 2017

Japan’s most attractive city 2015 is back in the spotlight – 50,000 of them – with an annual light up that takes place along central Hakodate’s picturesque streets leading down to the Bay Area, plus at other events. This isn’t an illumination event per se; more of a scattering of decorations at different spots. In any case, it will inevitably be snowing, ramping up the magical winter wonderland factor. As if you needed an excuse to stroll through these streets.