Osaka has enough neon to be seen from space (nearly), but during Christmastime it’s the LEDs and projectors that steal the show.
Nothing says Christmas in Japan like some impressive illuminations—be it a snowman or an artfully lit sculpture. The city really pushes the boat out for the festive season and has a series of different shows to view, with some even paired up with ramen festivals. Whether you want a full-on date night or just a quick stroll of an evening, there are plenty of great places to choose from, just make sure you time it right for the light projection shows!
1. Midosuji Illumination
Joined with the Hikari Renaissance (below) to form the Festival of Lights, the Midosuji Illumination is one of the most popular in Japan. It is now officially the street with the most illuminated trees and stretched for 4km between the Ooebashi-Kitazune and Hanshin-mae intersections. Making the most of the now-bare Gingko trees, the display runs from 5pm to 11pm until December 31st. The theme this year is the river of light, with a special Frog promenade set up on the pavement from Central odori to Kita-mido.
2. Osaka Hikari Renaissance
The second and slightly shorter arm of the Festival of Lights is the Hikari Renaissance—an impressive show of projection-mapping on the waterside in Nakanoshima Park. Along with the stunning displays at Nakanoshima Library you can see festive scenes of snowmen, unusual designs and even a small Christmas market.
3. Illuminight at Banpaku Park
A combination of music and beam lighting (aka projection mapping) will showcase the famous Tower of the Sun sculpture by Taro Okamoto. Over 400,000 LEDs will be used in the illuminations in the former sight of the World Expo. The theme this year is ‘Glow of the Galaxy’ and offers a story that goes forward with the past, present and future. Handily, the Ramen Expo will also be on from Nov 30th to Dec 25th, so you can enjoy a bowl (or three) of the country’s best noodles as you admire the lights.
The illuminations dates are as follows: Dec 1st-2nd, 7th-9th, 14th-16th and 21st-25th between 5pm to 9pm with last entry at 8:30pm. On Christmas Day it will be an illumination only, so no light mapping unfortunately. Entry is free after you have paid to enter the park area.
4. Osaka Castle Illuminage
Taking their inspiration from the end of Japan’s Edo era to the Meiji period, this year’s display in the Nishinomaru Gardens will have a historic twist. Using streetscapes, Western appearances and plenty of traditional scenes too, it offers an insight into the modernization of Japan 150 years ago. There will be performances of a samurai show on weekends and holidays (and from the 15th to 25th of December as well as the 1st to 6th of January) at 6pm and 7pm.
In addition to the lights there will be a food court to keep you warm and fed and plenty of photo spots too.
Entry costs ¥1,200 for adults and ¥600 for children.
6. German Christmas Market
Head for the Umeda Sky Building for some festive food and plenty of mulled wine with Osaka’s German Christmas Market. Combining stalls with plenty of lights, you’ll have as much to look at as you will to consider buying, as well as an antique merry-go-round and a series of very impressive trees.
7. Kaiyukan Illuminations
Now this may not be worth the trip just for the lights, but if you’re heading over to see the sea life at Kaiyukan Aquarium anyway, it’s a very festive addition to your day. Sticking to the theme, the displays are formed of the aquarium’s inhabitants—from whales to manta rays and more. This is one of the longest running displays, lasting from Nov 9th to March 3rd, so no rush.