Tunnel of light in the Nabano no sato holiday lights display in Nagashima, northern Mie prefecture.
Looking for an escape from Hiroshima this Christmas? How about Nagoya? From the cute and cartoony holiday lights in Nagoya city to the dazzling, otherworldly installation in nearby Nagashima, these holiday lights are sure to put you in the Christmas spirit.
Story and Photos by Joanna Tocher
I’m preparing for my first Christmas in Japan and there are a lot of things about Christmas here that feel a little, well, strange to me. Despite a general feeling of excitement about Christmas in the air, it’s more like the kind of excitement you’d feel before a nice party rather than the excitement of what is, for some, one of the most important and popular holidays of the year. Sure, I could probably say the same thing about Christmas in the UK, where I’m from: that it’s nothing that special these days, it’s just an excuse to buy presents and eat too much. For many people this is exactly the case, but I’ve always been a bit of a Christmas fanatic. Come December, I suddenly want to listen to choirs of angelic children singing “O Holy Night”, watch sentimental movies and think about love and peace and togetherness. However, since New Year is the proper holiday in Japan it’s only natural that there isn’t really much substance underneath December’s department store tinsel, elaborate Christmas cream cakes and endless repetitions of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”.
However, one thing Japan does do extremely well at Christmas time is illuminations! They may be more to do with winter than Christmas, but that hardly seems to matter. There is something so incredibly beautiful and Christmassy about walking through these elaborately lit parks and grottoes full of sparkling trees and fantastical glittering constructions.
This year I’ve only managed to visit two sets of illuminations, each very different from the other. This year’s Nagoya illuminations are located outside the huge JR station building and can be reached by taking the escalator to the second floor and walking out to the balcony overlooking the street. This display is definitely a child-oriented affair. The walkway is lined with tree shapes covered in lovely blueish-white lights. The effect is like walking down a sparkling snowy avenue minus the snow.
The outer side of the balcony is decorated with a series of television mascots and characters posed next to various igloos and lanterns. Some of the cutest characters on show were Domokun, Snoopy, and Crayon Shin-chan.
It’s only a small display, so you do have to wait a little at every character for the excited small children (and the decidedly larger but equally excitable teenagers) to disperse before you can get any photos, but it’s a nice, cozy little exhibit. Despite going there on my own, I found it very hard to keep myself from gasping “Cute!” when faced with some of the characters.
However, for all the Nagoya illumination show’s charm, the better light show is definitely to be found in Nagashima, in northern Mie prefecture. Nabana no sato is a flower garden that’s lit up every year from the beginning of November to mid-March. They really do go all out on covering every available area with lights. The path through the park winds past a small lake dotted with tiny walkways covered in coloured lights. The park is also home to a small chapel that sits on the banks of the lake and plays host to a large elaborate Christmas tree.
There are two main showstoppers this year, the artificial aurora and the two tunnels of light. The aurora hovers over a field covered entirely with tiny blue lights, interspersed with shooting star effects. It stretches across the edge of the field, slowly changing colour from red to orange to green to purple and back again. Ethereal choral music is pumped out from unseen speakers around the edges of the field and when positioned right in front of it the combination of the lights and the music really give the impression of standing on some beautiful alien planet.
There are two tunnels, one lit with yellow lights, another with black lights. Both are incredible and if you can shut out the noise of the hundreds of people around you it really does feel like you’re stepping into another world. The purple black light tunnel is particularly impressive but of course has the unfortunate side effect of turning all white clothing (and teeth!) a ghostly shade of green.
Both sets of illuminations are satisfying in their own way, but for a really special, Christmassy experience, the Nabana no sato park really is the best. Of course if you’re not in the area there will almost certainly be some illuminations somewhere nearby so wrap up warmly and enter a magical Winter Wonderland near you.
Nagoya is just under 2.5 hours from Hiroshima by shinkansen and costs around 14,030 yen for a reserved seat. Alternatively, several night buses go from Hiroshima to Nagoya. The night bus takes around 8.5 hours and costs 8,400 yen.
To get to the Nagoya Winter Illuminations: From the Kintetsu or JR line stops, enter the JR Station building. Head for the gold clock in the centre of the building and take one of the escalators behind it to the next floor. Walk straight out the doors and you’re there.
To get to Nabana no sato: From Nagoya, take the JR or Kintetsu Line to Kuwana station. Exit the train station and go to the bus station. The bus timetable for Nabana no sato is located next to the ticket office. There are at least two buses an hour. The last bus from Nabana no sato back to Kuwana leaves at around 9:20 p.m.