Kobe Luminarie 2013 – A Masterpiece of Illumination

Around Christmas time you’ll find a lot of great illuminations in Japan.
One of the most popular illuminations is the Kobe Luminare – and I went there just a few days ago:

smilie Visited: December 8th 2013 smilie

Kobe Luminarie 2013

What exactly is “Kobe Luminarie”?

The tradition of the “Kobe Luminarie” (神戸ルミナリエ) started in 1995. Some of you might remember that it was the year when the Great Hanshin Earthquake happened, damaging parts of Awaji Island and Kobe. More than 6000 people died.

After the quake a lot of people were without electricity, gas and water. The lights of Kobe Luminarie symbolize hope and recovery.

In fact, it was supposed to be held only once, but it was extremely popular, so they continued it as an annual event.

Kobe Luminarie 2013

During the opening ceremony people pray for the ones who died in the quake in 1995.

The Italian Government donated the lights which is probably why they use an Italian-sounding name for the event. “Luminarie” comes from the word “luminaria” which actually refers to small paper lanterns.

Valerio Festi and Hirokazu Imaoka are in charge of the installation. They create beautiful layouts and they’re different every year!

Kobe Luminarie 2013

This is the first thing you’ll see when you arrive at the location. “The entrance gate” – as I like to call it – has the title “Toki no Kakusei” (時の覚醒) which means more or less “the awakening of time”.

Every year there’s a new theme. For Kobe Luminarie 2013 it’s “A Memory of Light” (hikari no kioku: 光の記憶).
2014’s theme is “神戸 夢と光” (Kobe: Dreams and Light).

From the beginning it has been a very popular event drawing millions of people to Kobe every December. Here are the visitor numbers of the past few years:

Year: Number of Visitors:
2004 5,383,000
2005 4,358,000
2006 4,650,000
2007 4,043,000
2008 3,755,000
2009 3,650,000
2010 3,434,000
2011 3,421,000
2012 3,401,000

Source: Wikipedia

So, you can imagine that there are hundreds of people every evening. Weekends are especially crowded.

Kobe Luminarie 2013

In the photo above you can see that people started lining up in front of the Daimaru Department Store in Motomachi. It’s right next to the entrance of “China Town”.

From there the actual location is not far away, but it took an hour as the police led us from one street to another. That’s the only way to manage the traffic with so many visitors.  I wouldn’t recommend coming by car. Use public transportation instead. Please plan accordingly.

Although it was crowded it wasn’t bad at all. The streets were lit up beautifully and the police officers were friendly and well-prepared. Compared to many other crowded events and sightseeing spots I’ve been to, they really did a great job.


When and how can you visit Kobe Luminarie?

As you’ve probably already figured out the “Kobe Luminarie” is located in Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture (map). You can easily go there in the evening if you’re in Osaka or Himeji, but even from Kyoto it’s possible. The illumination event takes place every year in early December. Please check the official website for the exact date and time as it changes every year.

This year (2014) it’s held from December 4th to 15th. If you happen to be in Kansai, make sure to check it out.

The lights are turned on every evening and music is played in the background that reminds you of Christmas or “church music”. Here are the exact times for 2014:

Days: Hours:
Monday – Thursday 18:00-21:30
Friday 18:00-22:00
Saturday 17:00-22:00
Sunday 17:00-21:30

Kobe Luminarie 2013

The location stretches from the Old Foreign Settlement to Higashi-yuenchi Park in Chuo-ku which is south of Hanshin Railway. That’s between Motomachi and Sannomiya Station, so you can get off at either station and walk there in about 5-10 mins.

Kobe Luminarie 2013

You don’t have to pay an entrance free, but you can deliberately pay 100 yen as a donation.

In return you’ll get a Luminarie Memorial Card.

Furthermore they sell “special Luminarie products” such as postcards, stamps or key chains. You’ll also find some food stalls.

Kobe Luminarie 2013

As for taking photos, you don’t need a tripod. The lights are bright enough and a tripod would only be in the way with all the people around.

I also took photos with my phone and they were quite ok. You can see one here.

Kobe Luminarie 2013

The layout certainly reminds you of a church and so does the music they play in the background. Despite the crowds of people, it is very calm and it certainly feels like Christmas.

Kobe Luminarie 2013

It is very impressive. I felt like just standing there, staring at all the lights with my mouth wide open.

Kobe Luminarie 2013

They have a few different installations and every time you get close enough, there’s another “wow!”-effect.

Kobe Luminarie 2013

I’m really glad I finally went as I always wanted to go.

While it’s true that I enjoyed it, I wouldn’t go a second time. I think this is something to experience just once – although they have a different layout every year.

That’s why I’d only recommend going if you’re nearby. I wouldn’t spend a lot of money just to get there. It’s a great chance if you’re already in Kansai in early December. Then, definitely check it out and try to go during the week with hopefully less people around.


T O U R I S T     I N F O R M A T I O N
Event Schedule: 12 days in early December after sunset for a few hours (for the exact date and time check the official website)
Entrance fee: free (you can donate 100 yen)
Time required: at least 1.5h (on busy days it’ll take at least 1h to get there)
TEL: (+81)078-303-0038
Access: About 5 mins walk from either Motomachi or Sannomiya Station in Kobe. The location is the Old Foreign Settlement and Higashi-yuenchi Park in Chuo-ku.

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