Where To See The Best Illuminations In Tokyo 2018

Free displays of holiday illuminations have become a huge attraction in Tokyo  – probably because they’re the most instabae invention since selfie sticks – and every year they get bigger and better. Here are this year’s offerings from my favorite places to see them…

• Most Entertaining •

TOKYO MIDTOWN

Midtown’s “The Universe” is my favorite illuminations show in Tokyo, and this year the music and superbly choreographed light show are joined by…

…bubbles! (You can see some of them in front of the big pink sphere). The coolest ones were blown into the fog machine, so each one captures a little smoke inside, making them more visible in the dark. You can see some of these way in the back, to the right of the pink sphere

This year’s illumipalooza is less edgy than last year’s planetary extravaganza, but it makes up for it with new effects and colors. There are two variation that I saw – one sort of pastel, with a muted palette of blues and purples…

…and the other, a more fiery performance

They really amp up the color on the second variation, so it’s worth waiting through several rounds of the regular one to see it

But let’s not mess around with stills – here’s a video that’ll give you a better idea of the brilliant choreography and lightplay

November 13 – December 25

17:00 – 23:00

Admission: Free

MAP

TOKYO DOME CITY

New this year, the fountain in the half of Tokyo Dome City that’s farthest from the station features a “fireworks” show that’s quite entertaining (and never been done before, because fireworks are a major icon of summer in Japan, so it’s kind of like putting Santa in shorts and sunglasses, but whatever. Still pretty!)

Also new this year is an entertainingly interactive illumination with “planets” that bloom beneath your feet as you hop, skip and jump across it

The light-up floating balls, ever-changing dome show and a cafe illuminated by color-changing lanterns are back…

…and it wouldn’t be surreal Japanese Xmas without a walk through the Wonka-esque tunnel ‘o flashing rainbow snowflakes

Minor new attractions include this tower of origami cranes and ice cubes (to make them more wintry, I guess)…

…and continuing the summer-winter mash-up theme, this How Many Parasols Can You Fit In A Phone Booth illumination is on the upper deck, an escalator ride above the fireworks fountain.

This isn’t as wow as the others, but don’t miss the nice promenade of carved bamboo luminaria on the upper deck – you can see the color-changing Xmas-tree-shaped clockwork thing in the background

And the most excellent thing about the Tokyo Dome City illuminations is that you don’t have to fork over the big bucks for any ride tickets to enjoy it – all the illuminations are free!

November 7 – February 17

16:00 – 24:00

Admission: Free

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SHIODOME CARETTA

Once again, this Shiodome courtyard is transformed into a fantasy landscape of starry blue lights

Every year, the Shiodome courtyard is transformed into a fantasy landscape of starry blue lights that periodically burst into dancing colored lights synced to music

One snap from the ten-minute light & music show

This color-changing tree always makes an appearance

This is an artist rendition of this year’s “Frozen” and “Tangled” themed illumination (illustration courtesy of Shiodome Caretta)

This year Shiodome Caretta is going Full Disney again, with a “Tangled” and “Frozen” mash-up. Once again it promises to be a lights and music extravaganza that’s well worth seeing. The soundtrack is music from the movies, and the animated Disney bits are merely projected on the buildings behind, so they can be easily ignored while watching the 250,000 LED light show & getting your snaps in front of the color-changing Xmas tree.

November 15 – February 14 (closed January 1-2)

17:00 – 23:00 (18:00 – 23:00 after January 1)

Admission: Free

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• Sparkly Strolls •

MEGURO RIVER “MINNA NO ILLUMINATION”

There are a lot of “streets lined with trees lit up with fairy lights” around Tokyo, but this one is the best, because the lights are doubled by the reflection in the Meguro River

Plus, there are a lot of little bridges that criss-cross it, making for nice pix

As a bonus, there is this stretch of walkway near the Osaki end of the illuminations, where it turns into a tunnel of pink stars

The 2.2 kilometer stretch along the Meguro River between JR Gotanda Station and JR Osaki Station is lit up with 420,000 pink lights for your strolling pleasure. It’s about a 5 minute walk from either station to the river.

November 9 – January 6

17:00 – 22:00

Admission: Free

ROPPONGI HILLS

Here’s what Keyakizaka Street by Roppongi Hills looks like most of the time: a mix of “Snow & Blue”

But for ten minutes, every half hour, it switches to “Candle & Amber”

Over at Roppongi Hills, the display of lights on Keyakizaka-dori is always festive (and definitely instabae). The best place to see the promenade (and get a view of Tokyo Tower) is from the bridge over the street by the Louis Vuitton store. It changes from “Snow & Blue” to “Candle & Amber” at 00:00 and 00:30

Here’s a little video of it (although the actual transition from blue to amber is much more abrupt)

November 7 – December 25

17:00 – 23:00

Admission: Free

MAP

SHIBUYA “BLUE CAVE”

I had to go back to San Francisco before this started (it starts November 30) but this is what one of the trees looks like, all lit up in blue. Imagine the entire promenade looking like this – I think it might be worth a visit!

Shibuya Koen Dori Street  to Yoyogi Park Keyaki Namiki (about 800 m)

November 30 – December 31 (although the lights on Shibuya Koen Dori stay up until January 16)

17:00 – 22:00

Admission: Free

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SHINJUKU SOUTHERN TERRACE

Shinjuku Southern Terrace doesn’t give you much to look at this year except oodles of gold lights, which I found kind of disappointing, in proportion to the hype it gets

Same with Mosaic Street, except the lights are pink

I’m really only including the underwhelming golden penguin host club shrine and weedy-looking photo op set-ups to underscore the utter meh-mess of this much-touted illuminations destination. Shinjuku, I am disappoint!

November 14 – February 14

17:00 – 24:00

Admission: Free

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EBISU GARDEN PLACE

EbisuIllumin

This display doesn’t change from year to year, but if you haven’t been there, the view from the red carpet that leads from the Christmas tree to the gigantic Baccarat chandelier is worth seeing once.

November 3 – February 28

16:00 – 24:00

Admission: Free

MAP

• Destination Illuminations •

If you’re willing to travel to the outskirts of Tokyo for some really spectacular illuminations extravaganzas….

YOMIURILAND

Colored lights and lots of ’em make it worth the admission price to the old Yomiuriland theme park, even if you never go on a single ride.

The ginormous reflecting pool stage offered three different shows (rotating every fifteen minutes at :00, :15, :30 & :45) and the one I saw not only had colored dancing fountains (I’m a sucker for dancing fountains) but also dancers performing in silhouette (ditto for suckerhood).

Tunnels like this pulse with an every-changing light show

Getting to Yomiuriland is a bit of an undertaking, but trust me, the illuminations are worth it! It takes hours to see them all, and the quality does not disappoint. They definitely did not stint on the electrical outlay, and it’s seldom crowded. Even if you don’t go on any of the rides, it’s worth it.

October 11 – February 17

Open every day except for these holidays: Jan 1, Jan 15-17, Jan 21-24

16:00 – 22:00*

Admission: You can go see the illuminations with a special Night Entrance Fee that starts at 16:00 and includes a free pass for all the attractions: Adults(18-64) ¥1400; Middle and high school students ¥600; Children ¥300 (under 3 are free); Senior(65+) ¥600

*Check their English web page here for other prices and hours, because sometimes they’re open later

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ILLUMILLIONS THEME PARK

Hillsides covered with lights, as far as the eye can see

Giant illuminated flower gardens and a billowing undersea landscape are only a few of the walk-through attractions

They got tunnels too. Ever-changing light-up tunnels

And shows, with lights & music & dancing fountains

This place is a bit of a trek from Tokyo (it takes about an hour by train from Shinjuku Station, then a short bus ride), but if you love whole hillsides carpeted with lights, Sagamiko Illumillions is hard to beat. Tips & tricks for getting there are here.

November 3 – April 7 (open every day until January 1; after January 1, the park is closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays)

16:00 – 21:30 (last admission 30 minutes before closing time)

Admission: Adults ¥1000, Children ¥700, Pets ¥700

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Between oohing and aahing over holiday lights, Jonelle Patrick occasionally has time to write novels set in Tokyo

When Detective Kenji Nakamura’s phone rings with the news that his mother’s death wasn’t an accident, his life begins to unravel…read more