Kyoto makes even the most garish of things classy—the city even manages it with winter illuminations. So look no further for the fanciest festive feels in the Kansai area.
As a famously beautiful place, it might be hard to imagine Kyoto looking any better than it already does, but if you sprinkle a few thousand LEDs and wrap some fairy lights around a tree or two you’d be surprised. With some generous local companies putting on spectacular displays, the local train station joining in, and some truly magical bamboo light-ups in Arashiyama, you’ll start to feel festive no matter how grinch-like you may usually be at these top Kyoto winter illuminations.
Due to COVID-19, there are fewer events happening in and around Kyoto in 2021, so they’ll probably attract bigger crowds than usual.
1. Arashiyama Hanatouro
The Arashiyama Hanatouro is an illumination event held in May and December each year and means ‘path of flowers and light’. Both events last only 10 days and transform the already-beautiful area into something truly special. Highlights include the swaying bamboo and Togetsukyo Bridge as well as Tenryu-ji and Horin-ji. Keep in mind that some areas are only lit on weekends so do check the schedule and map in advance.
Kyoto Arashiyama Hanatouro - Illuminations
2. Twinkle Joyo
A little out of the way but still in Kyoto Prefecture, Joyo City is fast becoming a top illumination destination in Kansai, but it’s certainly not your standard light show. Twinkle Joyo, a community project that uses displays donated by local groups as well as companies and organizations, is a pretty impressive collection desgined to boost visitors to the area. The event has food stalls and entertainment and a serious amount of selfie-worthy spots. Head to the Joyo City Comprehensive Athletic Park “Recreation Zone” (or just follow the people from Joyo Station). The park will be illuminated from December 1st to the 25th from 5:30 pm to 9 pm daily.
3. Hikari no Fantasy: Kyoto Station illumination
An easy way to tick off some winter illumination viewing, Kyoto Station has one of the most popular displays in the city. This year’s theme is Fantasy of Light and will run from November 12, 2021 to March 27, 2022 from 5 pm to 10 pm. Using almost 130,000 lights, the already-eyecatching station becomes a beacon of festive fun, with a Luna Garden, a Star Bridge, a giant Christmas tree and music too. Kyoto Station’s epic stairs become a musical and light show while twinkling lights transform a simple train change into a festive treat.
4. Bambio Illumination, Nagaokakyō
If you’re already at Kyoto Station to see the twinkly lights, then it’s easy enough to jump on the Tokaido-Sanyo Line and ride the train for 13 minutes to Nagaokakyō Station. Bambio Illumination is right next to the west exit of the station in Bambio Plaza Park. The light-up runs from December 10th, 2021 until January 10th, 2022. The point of difference for the Nagaokakyō illumination is that they employ traditional lanterns made with local bamboo (which they are quite proud of around here).
5. The Dandelion Project
From light, projection mapping and design wizards Naked Inc. and artist Ryotaro Muramatsu comes The Dandelion Project. It’s more of a light and projection mapping art project than a traditional illumination event, with different landmarks around Kyoto transformed into giant canvases. Not all of the events are open to the public, but the ones that are include Kitanotenmangu shrine on November 13th and 14th, Koshouji Temple in Uji on December 3rd and 4th, Arashiyama Bamboo Forest in mid-December, and Heian Jingu, also in mid-December.
Bonus spot: Synesthesia Hills Illumination
While this particular spot for music and illumination is open year-round, it gets an honorable mention because, hey, it’s the season for bright lights—and here they twinkle in spades. There are 12 different installations, including the Crystal Lake, Aurora Experience, Spiral Light Tunnel, and more. Tickets are generally ¥1,000/adult on weekdays and ¥1,200 for weekends and holidays, but go up to ¥1,800/adult for a few days around Christmas (Decemeber 23–25).
Events not happening in 2021
ROHM Illuminations – *Canceled*
The biggest illumination event in the city, the ROHM Illuminations are held by a local company around its headquarters in Nagura Park. With over 800,000 lights the event features brightly lit tree-lined avenues, a screen display, musical performances and more. The two round Yamamo trees are the opening sight and welcome visitors to walk between the bright redwood trees to the Ensemble of Light area.
This post was originally written in 2018 and was last updated in November 2021.