Kyoto makes even the most garish of things classy—the city even managed 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.
1. 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.
2. 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 (note: For 2020, the bamboo forest illuminations are cancelled). Keep in mind that some areas are only lit on weekends so do check the schedule and map in advance.
Kyoto Arashiyama Hanatouro - Illuminations
3. Kyoto Nijo Castle Illuminage
For the first time, the popular illumination event that takes place in Osaka every year will also be coming to Kyoto’s Nijo Castle (and in Kobe too). The event will display beautiful neon light-ups of historical and culural vignettes. This year’s theme is shunkashūtō, which means “four seasons”—with illuminations of autumn flora, winter snow houses, spring cherry blossoms, and a glowing summer bamboo forest.
Nijo Castle Illuminage runs from December 14, 2020 to February 21, 2021 from 5:30 pm to 10 pm. (Note: the event is closed from December 29 to 31.) Tickets are ¥1,500/adult.
4. 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.
5. Kyoto Station
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 Light of Hope for the Future and will runs from November 13, 2020 to March 27, 2021 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. The stairs become a musical and light show while twinkling lights transform a simple train change into a festive treat.
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).
This post was originally written in 2018 and was last updated in November 2020.