Christmas illuminations: Experience a festive wonderland in Tokyo

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The period leading up to Christmas is in my opinion, as Andy Williams will put it, "The most wonderful time of the year!" to visit Japan. Decorations are set up and illuminations are light up for one of the most magical holidays. Japan goes to great lengths to set up some of the most elaborate light shows for a holiday that they are not even a part of. Wait, what? That's right, you've not read wrong. Christmas is not a gazetted public holiday in Japan. That is why as a traveler, you take full advantage of being the only few groups of people to fully appreciate the festive period. In Tokyo alone, several places set up enormous lighting displays to draw crowds in and participate in soaking up the festive atmosphere. Here are some of the places that brings in the Christmas cheers.


Lighting up Odaiba Seaside Park

Odaiba is a massive area that is caught up by the festivities. It's illumination is more or less clustered up by different malls each having their own Christmas decorations and activities. However, due to to relative close proximity to each other, the Christmas lights from different places feed off each other to become one festive destination. An advantage of heading to Odiaba to see the illumination is the number of different kinds you're able to see in such a small area, whether it be the Odaiba Seaside Park, Aqua City Odaiba, Decks Tokyo beach, Diver City or Venusfort. What's also great is that the spaces in between the places are huge which means that crowds are generally scattered around and you won't get the sense of overcrowding .
Christmas in the ocean depths of Aqua City

A Roman Christmas in Venusfort

Yesbisu Garden Place

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During this period, Yesbisu Garden Place is not just the home to the museum of it's namesake and all the beer you can drink in the world. Come Christmas, the entire place becomes a Christmas market. Outdoor food and beer stands are aplenty alongside various little stores that sells all sorts of festive products and handicraft. Past the entrance and into the plaza, you'll walk down the central path alongside 2 rows of lighted-up trees which leads you to the centrepiece of the entire place: the giant chandelier. In my opinion, the Yesbisu Garden Place is by far one of the best places in Tokyo to soak up the atmosphere because the surrounding buildings takes up a very western look which complements the Christmas decorations as well as the market.

Caretta Shiodome

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The Yebisu Garden Place may be very close to an actual authentic Christmas market, but when it comes to a light-up performance, Caretta Shiodome's illumination show provides viewers with a feast for their eyes. Every year, the shopping complex puts up a Christmas show right in front of the building that attracts thousands of visitors. The illumination puts up a lighting performance every 20 minutes. Each performance typically lasts around 10-15 minutes after which visitors are able to get up close to the displays to have their photos taken. Having been there myself, the illumination show was a great experience. The outer walls of the shopping complex absorbs and glows off the blues and whites of the illumination creating a magical wonderland. Caretta Shiodome was definitely one of the highlights of that particular trip to Japan.
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Fancy a walk from one end of Ginza to another? Then Christmas is just the perfect time for you. The posh shopping street is lighted up a little more subtly then any other parts of Tokyo on this list.  From Shinbashi, the Christmas illumination stretches through the street, right down Ginza till it ends in Kyobashi. If you're feeling up for it, the Christmas display doesn't end there. I took up the challenge and walked from Shinbashi all the way past Ginza and Kyobashi right into the grand Tokyo station. Though the lighting displays are changed once past Ginza, the illumination continues right through Kyobashi and into Tokyo station. The Christmas lights doesn't come with anything fancy like our previous 2 spots, but the low-key displays exudes a calming presence and elegance that is befitting in that of Ginza's image.
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Omotensando is another shopping district that lights up during the festive season. Other than the illumination right outside the streets, the main highlight of the area is located inside Omotesando Hills shopping mall. A 10m Christmas tree is set up on the middle level of the central staircase that dissects the complex. Interactive Christmas displays are also set up on the remainder of the staircase that leads down into the basement. The display in Omotesando Hills provide boyfriends with a distraction while the girlfriend makes her round shopping from store to store in the mall.

Tokyo Midtown

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Tokyo Midtown is possibly the one most frequented by visitors in this entire list of illumination spots in Tokyo. Midtown is located in Roppongi which explains the amount of people that visits the light displays and don't be surprised at the long line that you will have to go through to actually reach the spot. It is LONG. While  I was there, the queue snakes out to the far, opposite side of the illumination, down to the basement and weaves in and out through 4 event spaces and back up the stairs before you finally reach the spot. However, it is a rather fast wait as you will spend more time moving than waiting in the queue. Once you reach the spot, what awaits you is a lighting performance similar to that of the on in Caretta Shiodome. A tip to get a closer look at the show is to move to the opposite side near the exit as other visitors tend to crowd right in front of the illumination near the entrance.
All in all, enjoying Christmas in Japan in a very casual activity. Most of the time, you won't be sitting at home with your loved ones and have a yearly affair of chilling and dining. Rather, heading out to the illumination spots and enjoying time with friends and family is more of the norm. So if you're planning to head over to Japan over the Christmas holidays, be sure to check out some of the lighting displays and soak up the atmosphere and indulge in some merry-making. Don't forget the beers and the wine!

Steven Chua