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:

Visited: December 8th 2013

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).
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:

Year: Number of Visitors:
1995 2,542,678
2001 5,190,000
2011 3,421,000
2016 3,253,000

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.

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:

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.


Tourist Information:
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)
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.
Please note: Prices as well as opening hours / holidays are subject to change. Please make sure to follow the provided link to the official website to check out the latest updates.


  • Quite interesting. It is curious how the design of those lights evokes for me Moslem places like Bokhara or Samarkand, or even some Russian decorations. I don’t find this truly attractive, but it is very showy. Thank for sharing your photos.

    • It is very showy indeed and impressive once you stand right in front of it, but like I said I’d only recommend it if you’re nearby already during that time of the year. ;)

  • Kobe Luminare is the original and some say best winter illumination in Japan. I’ve yet to see it with my own eyes so can’t say whether that is true or not. The best one I have seen so far has been the winter illuminations at Nabana no Sato in Mie Prefecture. Thank you for sharing your beautiful pictures. Hopefully I can attend next year.

    • I’ve seen quite a few illuminations in Japan as well, but I’d say it’s very hard to say which is the best one.
      I hope you get to go next year. I’m looking forward to the design of 2014. :D

  • Spectacular photos, and I’m very impressed with the scale and size of the illuminations. I would tend to agree with Simone though about it not looking Japanese at all, but Indian or Russian. I certainly don’t think the US could deal as well with so many of its citizens killed by disasters as Japan does from the quakes, Tsunamis and Typhoons. When we have 20 killed by a tornado its a national tragedy. Very seldom do we have to deal with a Katrina sized Hurricane or terrorist incident like 9/11. The Japanese people have always shown an extremely high level or fortitude to deal with life and persevere and this illumination show in Kobe is a great way to celebrate Japan’s successes in overcome adversity! Just love the ease of reading in this post, great work J.!

    • Bud Martin, you are right to remind us about that wonderful spirit of the Japanese. I think we should do well to emulate them and try to forge on. Also feel a little less sorry for ourselves each time some misfortune happens.

    • Thank you.
      I guess it’s not surprising considering the fact that an Italian has put hand on its layout. I suppose that’s where the “non-Asian” touch is coming from.

      Luckily, I only had to experience one big disaster here in Japan so far and at that time it was fascinating to see how most Japanese people stayed calm while many foreigners (e.g. my co-workers, including myself) were literally freaking out. :( …

      Thanks for taking the time to read my post, Bud.
      I’m glad you’ve become a regular reader and I really love your encouraging comments. Keep them coming. ;P

  • OMG, Jasmine, you’ve just spoiled my Christmas! I can’t see the local Illumination after this! [kidding] This is a truly Masterpiece!
    Thanks to you, my bookmarks folder with Japan travel tips is the thickest :)

  • Hallo Jasminteeblüte,

    ich bin zufällig über deinen Blog gestolpert, nachdem ich deinen Kommentar unter Sapphires letztem Post gelesen habe.
    Ich hoffe, du freust dich auf dein erstes deutsches Weihnachtsfest seit langem – einige der deutschen Weihnachtsmärkte können es in Sachen Illumination mit dem Event in Kobe sicherlich aufnehmen. Ich persönlich mag es lieber etwas zurückhaltender und traditioneller geschmückt in der Weihnachtszeit.
    Zweimal durfte ich Japan auch schon auf einer kurzen Geschäftsreise genießen und erleben – 2009 und 2012 in Tokio / Shibuya-ku & Ota-ku. Auch Kamakura hatte es mir seinerzeit sehr angetan und ich kann deine Begeisterung für dieses Land und die Kultur gut nachvollziehen.

    Jetzt komm’ aber erst mal zurück nach good old Germany – die Mischung machts! Und dann fliegst du vielleicht wieder mit neuer Begeisterung in das Land deiner Wahl zurück!

    Gruß aus dem Norden Süddeutschlands,


    • Hallo Uwe!

      Vielen Dank für den netten Kommentar. Hat mich wirklich gefreut. :D
      Hab die Weihnachtszeit in Deutschland sehr genossen, wobei mir das laute Silvester doch eher auf die Nerven ging. Da bevorzuge ich die ruhige Art hier in Japan.

      Hoffe, du hast mal wieder Gelegenheit privat oder geschäftlich nach Japan zu kommen.

  • Hi

    The last time I went to the Kobe Luminarie was 7 years ago. Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful Luminarie photos with us. When I visited the site, I remember I was really impressed by the lights though it was very crowded.
    Enjoy the holidays in Germany to the fullest!
    With all best wishes for a joyous season and a very Happy New Year!

    • Hi Sapphire! :D

      Thank you. I had a great time in Germany. Happy New Year to you as well! ^_____^

      I suppose Kobe Luminarie is always crowded no matter when you go, but the illumination is impressive indeed.

  • Hi Jasmine, happy new year and wow, your photos are wonderful as always. It really looks spectacular. But the number of visitors is crazy, it must be very crowded there. I hope I can see this one day. Great post. :)

  • I went to Kobe’s Luminarie a couple years back too (I think it was 2012..)!! Thankfully it’s one of those things that once you go to one time, you don’t have to torture yourself in the cold with it again. :kyah:
    But it is so gorgeous to look at. If only they weren’t screaming for you to not stop for pictures while everyone stops for pictures anyway :hum:

    How was is this (last) year?? Not too cold I hope? :)

  • Nice post Jasmine.

    I’ve been to the Kobe Luminarie a few times down the years. The design changes over time and in recent years they’ve switched all the bulbs to LED ones so it’s more sustainable and ecofriendly.

    It has a personal connection for me as my wife’s family live near Kobe. My (then future) wife was living there at the time of the earthquake. I vividly remember seeing the news reports on TV.

    I telephoned to see if she and her family were OK. Thankfully, apart from some minor structural damage to their home, they were all fine.

    I like to return to the festival from time to time as not only does it look magnificent but every year there are collections for charity. It’s a nice way to give back and remember those who died.

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