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:
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.
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!
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）.
2017’s theme was “未来への眼差し”（Peeking into the future).
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:
|Number of Visitors:
So, you can imagine that there are hundreds of people every evening. Weekends are especially crowded.
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.
2017 it was held from December 8th to 17th. 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:
|Monday – Thursday
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.
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.
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.
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.
It is very impressive. I felt like just standing there, staring at all the lights with my mouth wide open.
They have a few different installations and every time you get close enough, there’s another “wow!”-effect.
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.