That’s what you call this in Japan. It’s an experience that looks way better shared on social media than in real life. But I gotta say, Japan is genius at it.

Even this unfiltered photo looks more like the “Candles & Amber” promised by the publicity than the real life lights. The Roppongi Hills illuminations marketing team did their best, but in real life, the lights were…orange. (Bet they got managerial bonus points for repurposing those Halloween lights for Xmas, though.)

But even though they did a pretty decent job of selling orange as the new amber, this team gets a certain number of #instabae demerit points because every half hour, when the lights switch from “Snow & Blue” to ten minutes of “Candle & Amber,” everybody collects eagerly at the photo spot with phones set to “Video,” hoping to catch the transition, but all that happens is that they turn off the blue ones, leave it dark for a few seconds, then turn on the orange ones. Hashtag #disappointment, trending.

(Here’s how everyone wishes it happened)

Other places are far more experienced at instabae. In fact, they were totally designed to be instabae, even back when all people could do was inflict their holiday photos on their friends face to face. Take Ashikaga Flower Park, for example. The actual experience is less like strolling through a garden than elbowing your way through a crowded plant theme park – it’s a small area utterly crammed with as many plantings (and people) as it can hold. It is, however totally designed for amazing photos.

Lights, camera, upload! (And even though there are tons of people standing around the other side of the photo-worthy wisteria, you don’t see them because of the way the lights are set up.)
Reflecting pool to make it look even more amazing? Check.
How to attract tens of thousands of phone-toting visitors to your middle-of-nowhere park? Plant a few flowers on a spare hill and let the instabae roll in

I’ve got to admit, even though I know these places are pure uploading honey traps, I still go. Because Japan is really really really good at making the schlep worthwhile. And how did they get to be so good? By being snag-that-moment-and-save-it fanatics since the days before there were photos, of course. Back when you had to pen a haiku to capture a shareable travel moment.

How wild the sea is,
and over Sado Island,
the River of Heaven

                       –Matsuo Bashō

Didn’t even need to master the “starry night” setting on his camera for that one, did he?

How long has this been going on? Well, right behind me as I took this photo of completely natural wonders: massive tourist rest top and souvenir store, dating back to two centuries ago.

If you’re in Tokyo and you’d like to capture your own instabae moments, here are the best places to see autumn leaves, the most fab holiday illuminations, and amazing flower extravaganzas in every season.

The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for
Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon

For three hundred years, a missing tea bowl passes from one fortune-seeker to the next, changing the lives of all who possess it…read more

“A fascinating mix of history and mystery.” —Booklist

Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, produces the monthly e-magazine Japanagram, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

Published by Jonelle Patrick

Writes all the Japan things.

4 thoughts on “Instabae

    1. The falls are definitely worth the schlep (plus, they’re near Nikko, so you’re probably there periodically showing some visitor around anyway) but despite the fact that my Google map ( helpfully tells me that Ryuzu Falls will deliver “twin wateralls and an eatery” I thought the latter was, hmm, not exactly five star. They do have a nice balcony from which to snap the instabae, though.

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