Although celebrating the holidays will look a little different this year, it’s still possible to get festive. Tokyo’s many illuminations are a great way to enjoy the holidays while social distancing. Some illuminations have been cancelled, but others are still on, with extra safety precautions in place (although the schedules are always subject to change in these uncertain times).
Here are our picks for 2020-2021’s five best illuminations to visit —- not too crowded, and still full of holiday spirit.
Yebisu Garden Place Winter Illumination
Where: Yebisu Garden Place, Ebisu
Dates: November 28th, 2020 to January 11th, 2021
Time: 11:00 – 24:00
A promenade lined with gold-lit trees leads to the centrepiece of the event: an immense crystal chandelier. With 250 lights, and 8,500 crystal pieces, it is the world’s largest Baccarat chandelier, a chef-d-’ouevre gifted by the French Embassy. This year, starting at 17:00, the chandelier will turn blue every thirty minutes in support of medical workers. Other parts of the event, like the Christmas Marché and Christmas tree may not be on. However, seeing the chandelier is well worth the trip, while the promenade is broad enough not to get too crowded, so this display is perfect for social distancing.
Where: Keyakizaka-dori, Roppongi
Dates: November 13th, 2020 to December 25th, 2020
Time: 17:00 – 23:00
Kagurazaka Street’s winter illumination offers one of Tokyo’s most iconic holiday sights: two rows of sparkling trees leading to a view of Tokyo Tower. To match with this year’s theme of “Snow Blue”, the trees along the street are decorated with around 700,000 LED blue lights, making them look as if they are glazed in glittering ice. I found that the pedestrian bridge overlooking the street tended to get a bit crowded, however, the street itself made for a lovely—and not too busy—winter walk.
The area of Roppongi Hills also offers several other Christmas events. By the Keyakizaka overpass bridge, there is a small photo-op with a horse and carriage cut-out. Bonus: if you take photos of the horse decorations hidden around the venue, and share them with the tags “#JRA” and “# Keyakizaka Illumination” you can be entered into a lottery for a gift. A little further along, Oyane Plaza hosts a small Christmas Market, which has additional safety precautions implemented. And, finally, the West Walk boasts a giant Christmas tree decked out with velour ornaments imported from Poland.
Tokyo Dome City Winter Illuminations
Where: Tokyo Dome, Suidobashi
Dates: November 13th, 2020 to December 25th, 2020
Time: 17:00 – 24:00
This year, the Tokyo Dome tries to bring a bit of cheer to the holidays with the theme “Smile”. According to the Tokyo Dome’s website, the theme is “a reminder to society of the power that a smile holds”. True to theme, the installation includes a giant smiley face and a 15 meter tall tree made of 5,000 smiley face ornaments. Other highlights include the ”Milky Way”, a color changing illuminated tunnel, trees covered in champagne gold lights, and the “Happiness Tree”, a towering Christmas tree in the centre of the LaQua mall. All the displays are well spaced out. When I went, I found it easy to enjoy the lights, while staying suitably far from the other guests.
The Omohara Illumination
Where: The Top of Tokyu Plaza Omotesando, Harajuku
Dates: November 14th, 2020 to January 31st, 2021
Time: 17:00 – 22:30
This is a smaller, and less well-known, light-up on the roof of the Tokyo Plaza building, right by the Starbucks. The Omohara Illumination offers a lovely night-view of Harajuku, along with a garden full of fairy-lights and lanterns. Since it is not one of the famous illuminations, it tends to stay fairly empty. Even I only discovered this light-up by chance last year, when I stopped by the Starbucks for a drink. So grab some hot cocoa and cozy-up for a picnic beneath the 16000 golden lights —the perfect spot for a holiday date.
Tokyo Mega Illumination
Where: The Oi Racecourse, Tokyo City Keiba, Oimachi
Dates: October 24th, 2020 – January 10th, 2021
Time: 16:30 – 21:30 (last entry at 20:30)
Cost: 800 yen in advance, 1000 yen at the door, 400 yen for children
The largest for last: this destination is all about the lights, in fact, it’s the biggest light display in all of Kanto. When the horses aren’t running, the Oi Racecourse transforms into a magical, illuminated fantasyland. The Tokyo Mega Illumination’s main features are the 100-metre light tunnel, the giant water fountain and light show, and the northern lights display. Since 2020’s theme is “Edo Gokusai Tanada” or traditional Edo Japan, there are additional exhibits including a rice terrace formed of lights, the “Edo Night-Light Bustle” and the “Taisho Romantic Garden”. The racetrack also states that this year, they would like to “provide a place of healing by illuminating all people who are worried about their daily lives due to the new coronavirus.” Since the event is held at a racetrack, there’s the additional bonus of being able to pet and take photos with special “healing horses”. Furthermore, with an installation so large, it’s easy to social distance, making it a safe and fun night out for the whole family.