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Winter illuminations during COVID-19? What, where, and when

Winter illuminations during COVID-19? What, where, and when

Japan is a nation that absolutely loves festivities. Wherever you are in the country, there always seems to be a different festival every month, and the emphasis leans towards celebrating and having a good time, rather than any actual religious or historical significance that comes with it. Take Christmas, for example. 


A quick google search reveals that roughly 1% of the Japanese population practice Christianity, yet Christmas remains a major event celebrated by the everyday Japanese each year. Rather than observing the religious aspects of it, Christmas is mostly embraced as a time to spread happiness, or to spend time with your friends, family, or significant other.


The Kingdom of Lights in Hui Ten Bosch is the largest light festival in Kyushu. (Image credit: HUIS TEN BOSCH / J-16324)

One of the many unique features that comes with Japanese Christmas—besides Kentucky Fried Chicken and Christmas Cake—are the beautiful Winter Illuminations (冬のイルミネーション Fuyu no irumineshon) which spring up across the country. Constructing large scale, intensely colourful light shows and events have become a modern Japanese art form in its own right, with various theme parks and locales continuously striving to deliver increasingly dazzling displays every year. Major tourist hubs such as Tokyo Disneyland or Huis Ten Bosch in Nagasaki make it part of their annual calendar to host extravagant Christmas Illumination events, which go on for the entirety of the winter season.


Adapting to the times

As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, some events such as Hiroshima Dreamination have had to cut short their originally intended runs. (Image credit: Flickr / Wei-Te Wong)


Due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, however, most events in Japan have had to adapt and make changes in order to control the situation. Measures such as mandatory temperature-taking and mask-wearing have been implemented nationwide, and various adjustments have to be made in order to restrict and limit the number of people in any one place. Sometimes this involves drastic measures such as cancelling their public event outright, as organisers come to terms that spatial and logistical requirements for social-distancing measures are simply not mangeable. Even some of the biggest and most well-known festivals in Japan, such as the Kobe Luminarie and the Sapporo Snow Festival, have had to make the tough decision to cancel their 2020/21 editions, after decades of holding their events without interruption.


Winter Illuminations in Tokyo


The Caretta Illumination and Shibuya Aonodokutsu will sadly not be held in 2020. (Image credit: Shutterstock / photoAC)


In Tokyo (東京), many of the larger winter illumination events have also been cancelled, such as the Caretta Illumination in Shinbashi (新橋) and the Shibuya Aonodokutsu (lit. Shibuya Blue Grotto) along Meguro River (目黒川 Meguro-gawa). In essence, if the illumination event is presented as a single destination, then it is very likely to be cancelled as it would result in a large gathering of people within one space. 


However, illuminations which decorate spaces of transit, such as streets and thoroughfares, are generally still being put up for pedestrians to enjoy.


The Keyakizaka Illumination street is complete with a stunning view of Tokyo Tower. (Image credit: ©Yasufumi Nishi / ©JNTO)


Some of these beautiful street illuminations sprinkled throughout the city include the Keyakizaka Illumination at Roppongi Hills and the Marunouchi Illumination at Marunouchi Street. These glittering illuminations add joy to the daily lives of the people who regularly transit on these thoroughfares, and sustain the spirit of Christmas as we weather through trying times.


Illumination events outside of Tokyo

A 90-minute train ride from Tokyo, Ashikaga Flower Fantasy is one of the biggest iIllumination events in Japan. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Although many major Winter Illumination events have been cancelled, Japan is far from experiencing a dark Christmas! Visitors who are willing to take a short trip out of Tokyo still can go to events such as the Ashikaga Flower Fantasy, where COVID-19 prevention measures have been put in place in order to protect the safety of park attendees. These include the compulsory wearing of face masks at all times within the park, temperature-taking at the park entrances, and the cordoning off of confined spaces where safe-distancing cannot be practiced.


Ashikaga Flower Park (あしかがフラワーパーク)
Address: 607 Hasamacho, Ashikaga, Tochigi 329-4216, Japan
Nearest station: Ashikaga Flower Park Station (あしかがフラワーパーク駅)
Access: Take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Oyama Station, then transfer to the Ryoma Line bound for Ashikaga Flower Park Station.
Opening hours: 11:00–21:00 daily (Entry times will vary based on flower blooming seasons)
Admission fee: ¥1,000 (Adult), ¥500 (Child)
Tel: +81 284-91-4939


Alongside Paddington Bear, the Lake Sagami Pleasure Forest is known for having the largest illumination setup in the Kanto Region. (Image credit: Shutterstock)


Sagamiko Illumillion is another event outside of Tokyo that is currently ongoing, at the Sagamiko Resort Pleasure Forest. Over 6 million LEDs have been planted on the picturesque theme park throughout the winter season. For 2020, they will also have a collaboration with The Pokémon Company, and have various Pokémon-themed iIlluminations, displays, and events lined up throughout the duration of the Illumillion event.


Sagamiko Resort Pleasure Forest (さがみ湖リゾートプレジャーフォレスト)
Address: 1634 Wakayanagi, Midori-ku, Sagamihara, Kanagawa 252-0175, Japan
Nearest station: Sagamiko Station (相模湖駅)
Access: Take the Chuo Line from Tokyo Station directly to Sagamiko Station, and then take Bus 21 to the Pleasure Forest Mae Bus Stop.
Opening hours: 11:00–21:00 daily (Entry times will vary based on flower blooming seasons)
Admission fee: ¥1,800 (Adult), ¥1,100 (Child)
Tel: +81 570-0373-53


Events mentioned in this article: 

Name / Prefecture Website Dates / Status
Huis Ten Bosch Christmas Lights / Nagasaki Prefecture https://english.huistenbosch.co.jp/event/hikari/xmas/ 01/11/2020 – 25/12/2020
Sagamiko Illumillion / Kanagawa Prefecture https://www.sagamiko-resort.jp/illumillion/ 24/11/2020 – 04/04/2021
Ashikaga Flower Fantasy / Tochigi Prefecture https://www.ashikaga.co.jp/flowerfantasy_special2020/en 17/10/2020 – 07/02/2021
Marunouchi Illumination / Tokyo https://www.marunouchi.com/event/detail/25828/ 05/11/2020 – 14/02/2021
Kobe Luminarie / Hyogo Prefecture http://kobe-luminarie.jp/ Cancelled
Shibuya Aonodokutsu / Tokyo http://shibuya-aonodokutsu.jp/ Cancelled
Caretta Illumination / Tokyo https://www.caretta.jp/foreign/index Cancelled
Hiroshima Dreamination / Hiroshima Prefecture https://www.dreamination.com/ Cancelled


As much as we would love to celebrate the end of the year and enjoy these light installations with our family and friends, it is very much our own social responsibility to avoid contact with others, just as much as it is the responsibility of the event organisers to safely manage these events. 


If you are already in Japan and have the opportunity to visit some of these places, do remember to practice proper social distancing etiquette and wear your masks at all times! For those of us who are yet unable to travel to Japan at this moment, hopefully this article has given you some inspiration for your next winter trip!


Header image credit: Shutterstock


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