Traveling to Tokyo this December? Don't worry about missing out on holiday cheer. Japanese have embraced, if not the spirit, at least the traditions of the holidays with typical enthusiasm.
Illuminations and Christmas markets around the city draw crowds every night during December. Hotels try to out-do each other with their Christmas trees and stores large and small drape themselves in lights and tinsel.
In front of Yurakucho Station. Photo courtesy Christy Nakada
Here's a guide to the best and the brightest. Just note, some displays disappear precisely on the 26th as the city transforms for the traditional Japanese decorations of New Year's week.
Combine a visit to the sea of lights at Tokyo Midtown with a tasty dinner of sausages and mulled wine at Roppongi Hill's German-style Christmas market. Both are within easy walking distance of each other.
Tokyo Midtown's Starlight Garden.
Starlight Garden. The main attraction during the holidays is actually at the back of this shopping/dining/business complex. As you enter, turn to your right and walk to the rear. The blue -- very blue -- LED Starlight Garden is held in a football field-size event space outside. Though not really Christmas-themed, it is the city's most dynamic light display. A show set to music runs continuously from 5-11 p.m. daily. Don't let the crowds put you off. You can get a good view pretty much from wherever you stand. And since the show runs several times an hour, everyone comes and goes pretty quickly.
Starlight Street, Tokyo Midtown
Take time after the show to walk along Starlight Road running adjacent to the event space. The trees are magnificently lit with blue lights on one side of the street and white on the other. The road will take you to Roppongi Street.
Santa Claus Street: The wide promenade at the front entrance to Midtown is lined with large, playful Santa Claus statues standing under trees covered in twinkling fairy lights. Perfect for holiday snaps.
Christmas Market: The Hill's shopping/dining/business hub has been a bit of a disappointment at Christmas the past few years. The decorations in the main square are sponsored by a whiskey maker and not particularly festive. Luckily, the other half of Hills has been transformed into an Old World Christmas Market that more than makes up for it.
German beers, bottled and draft, mulled wine, sausages, schnitzel, soup and pretzel vendors, plus craft workshops selling European style-ornaments and decorations turn the West Wing into a cozy European holiday village. Whether you're with your family or on your own, the decorations, trees, bright lights and good food will get you in the holiday spirit.
Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily through 12/25.
Keiyaki Zaka forest of lights: This is Hills other huge Christmas draw. The trees lining Keiyaki Zaka (zelkova tree hill ) are covered - like 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation' covered - in blue and white or red LED lights to dazzling effect. The colors shift from red to icy blue at set times during the evening for a completely different feeling. Pictures don't do justice to the impact of the display. This is my favorite holiday walk in the city.
To get there from the Christmas Market, take the down escalators next to the Market all the way to the street level entrance on the right. There's a pedestrian bridge over the display to give you a birds-eye view of the scene with Tokyo Tower in the background. Lights shine from 5 to 11, and the display runs until 12/25.
Ginza boulevard is Tokyo's version of New York's Fifth Avenue or Paris', Champs Elysees. Not nearly as grand, I'll admit, but still sparkly and beautiful at Christmas.
Almost every store has some sort of holiday display and the street is lined with Christmas trees and lights. It's a nice, long stroll from end to end and great for people watching. The lights stay on until midnight through January 6.
Personally I prefer the Mikimoto Christmas windows to the tree...
Everyone's favorite photo op is the large tree in front of Mikimoto Pearls just opposite Mitsukoshi Department Store. There's always a crowd after dark. Don't miss the elaborate light displays at Bulgari and Cartier, just a couple of blocks beyond.
Bulgari's holiday lights, Ginza
Terrace City: The tall forest of trees lining this popular promenade above the train tracks is brilliantly illuminated.
The Starbucks and Krispy Kreme shops along the way are full to capacity nightly as everyone picks up a snack or a hot drink to sit and admire the lights. The Takashimaya Times Square shopping zone on the other side of the tracks is festive as well, though it can't compete with the terrace.
The "chapel" at the South Terrace, Shinjuku.
At the end of the walk is a tall open arch that looks like it belongs in a wedding hall garden. Couples line up to pose for a picture and see what color the shining star on top turns for them. Is there a good color and a bad color? I'm not quite sure.
Shinjuku is a party town, so the lights stay on until midnight.
Access: With Shinjuku Station South Exit at your back, Terrace City is directly across the street, bisected by the train tracks below. Take the covered overhead walkway across the street. .
The Marunouchi business and financial district has spent a decade trying to shrug off its boring gray reputation and become a stand-alone shopping and dining destination like nearby Ginza. It has sort of succeeded, prices at the shops in the new or refurbished buildings are certainly just as high.
If an evening stroll along blocks of tree-lined streets ablaze with lights and high-end window shopping is on your holiday to-do list, it might be worth the train ride. The lights shine until midnight during December, and stay up until February16. Take Naka Dori street and start from Yurakacho Station.
Disney display at the Marunouchi Bldg. lobby.
Disney fans without the time or, perhaps, money to visit Tokyo Disneyland during the holidays can stop by the two Marunouchi Buildings and Marunouchi Brick Square across the street from Tokyo Station. They've tied up with Disney for a few events inside and out. The Marunouchi Bldg. has big Disney Christmas displays of Mickey and friends. Inside the Shin Marunouchi Building third floor lobby is a Disney Princess Tree.
The Cinderella ornaments on the Princess Tree at the Shin Marunouchi Bldg. Photo courtesy Christy Nakada.
Get up to the tree and look closely, the decorations are costumes and iconic items from the Disney princesses. Remember to pose fabulously in front of it!
Access: Take the Marunouchi exit from Tokyo Station.
Bright Christmas greens and reds all over the square and buildings surrounding the station. This part of both Yurakacho and Ginza have coordinated colors on the building and it's a great holiday walk to Ginza.
Odaiba entertainment island does not have nearly as many decorations as other parts of town, but still attracts thousands of visitors on weekends. They come for several famous photo-ops in front of beautiful Rainbow Bridge and tall, brightly lit Christmas trees, one framed by an illuminated heart. The setting creates the perfect Christmas card pose. Expect a line on weekends for the heart. The Christmas version is up until Christmas Day. A New Year's version takes its place from the 12/26 to 1/13.
Every Saturday during December at 7 p.m., there is also a fireworks display with the bridge in the background.