Tokyo Illuminated: Christmas in the Capital

Posted By Nathan Hoernig


What can you get out of this?

Inspiration and a smile.

If you’re interested in seeing the way Tokyo-ites celebrate Christmas, you may find this article an entertaining way to spice up your day as the 2011 Christmas season comes to an end.

Every year, Tokyo lights itself up to celebrate the Christmas and New Years season. This year, I chose a night, grabbed my digital SLR, my tripod and hit the streets of Tokyo to find the best sources of Christmas illumination. This post will mainly be a photo showcase of a few places I went to this year. Let the visual feast begin!

Roppongi Hills – Keyakizaka

Roppongi Hills, one of the many “classy” areas in Tokyo, is home to one of the most impressive illumination “projects” in Tokyo: “Artelligent”. It’s not merely a few trees dressed up, but a multi-faceted spectacle of light and “exhibits”. Because I made my visit the day after Christmas, a slew of these displays were all closed down for the year but I still managed to get some great shots of the main street!

Shiodome – Fantasia

This was a really neat light tunnel and steam locomotive display in the Shimbashi area of Tokyo. Walking through the tunnel was a really awesome experience. The steam locomotive in the background goes into animated mode at scheduled times but not while I was there, unfortunately.

Shiodome – Heartful Garden

Also, featured in the same complex as the one above, this one was geared towards couples. I was even able to catch an unsuspecting couple enjoying the exhibit. The whole display pulsated in different colors with base colors of pink and white.

Caretta – Blue Forest

Well, I had to save the best for last. This display was getting a lot of attention this year for its sheer size and depth. Every half hour or so, there was a musical display where the whole unit just danced with colors and wave-like effects. You could walk through the display though the line to get in was a bit long.

Can you guess how many total lights? 250,000 LEDs.

Getting your own shots of the Tokyo lights

This being my first year taking these photos, I learned a few valuable lessons.

First, go before Christmas to get the best lights. Not only is it warmer the earlier you go, but it’s your best chance to see all that’s available. I missed out on quite a few displays because Christmas was the last day and I got there a day late.

Second, bring a tripod. I didn’t use my tripod at all because there were plenty of rails and ledges to prop up on, but if I had, I could have gotten some awesome HDR shots. Afterwards I was kicking myself for not trying it out. If you know a bit about taking photos, it also gives you a great chance to improve the “lighting” of your photos through the addition of blurring car lights and such. Check out the first image above to see what I mean.

Third, go early. Many exhibits shut down at around 9:00. I was walking trough Omotesando and getting ready to take a photo of the lights from a pedestrian bridge when I detoured to say hello to an old friend working nearby. When I got back, only ten minutes later, the lights were dead and so was my chance of getting a great shot. Noooooooo!

Lastly, bring tight and warm gloves. Even if your hands and fingers don’t get that cold, they will when you touch the camera body which has been out in the cold breeze all night.

I can’t wait until next year. Hopefully I can get even better shots! Hope you enjoyed and if you know of anywhere (in the world) that has beautiful light displays, let us know!

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