- Kagoshima lets its love of illuminations shine
- Kagoshima's 3best spots to enjoy light displays
- 1. Minato Ohdori Park: Elegant and calming lights
- 2. Tenmon-kan Millionation -- Perfect for families
- 3. Light Fantasy and the Happiness Hill: Enjoy sweeping views of the city lights below
- Hop on a bus to enjoy the illuminations across town
In Japan, winter is synonymous with night-time light displays. Illuminations are best enjoyed in good company -- or with a date -- amidst a cold winter night. Could that possibly mean the warmer, southern parts of Japan are missing out on the fun?
If you think so, this article is bound to prove you wrong. Our writer based in Kagoshima, in southwest Japan, has chosen the city's three best spots for winter illuminations.
Kagoshima lets its love of illuminations shine
Ask anyone outside Kagoshima the first thing that comes to mind, when asked about the prefecture. Most consider it a tropical, onsen hot spring destination. Yes, Kagoshima is nice and warm year round, however, it does have its share of winter. And Kagoshima residents love winter light installations, just like the rest of Japan. In fact, Kagoshima has a surprising number of places to enjoy winter illuminations.
Grass-covered tram tracks basking in light
Winter weather in Kagoshima
Before we jump into more details, let us take a quick look at Kagoshima's winter climate. The prefecture is located on the southernmost tip of Kyushu island, so it does have a tropical atmosphere with flowers such as bougainvilleas and hibiscuses blooming in winter.
Warm and sunny -- typical Kagoshima image
However, Kagoshima does have cooler days. Statistics show that the average temperature in December is 10.6 degrees Celsius, which drops to 8.5 degrees in January. In February the average is 9.8 degrees. That means Kagoshima is only slightly warmer than the Tokyo metropolitan area, and definitely much colder than tropical Okinawa, which is directly south of Kagoshima.
Kagoshima's love of lights
Kagoshima (particularly the capital city) puts on many light decorations at night. The tram tracks covered with grass are brightly lit up year-round. The tramway turns into a dancefloor during the traditional Ohara Matsuri festival in November, which features a tramcar decked with dazzling lights.
The "flower train" -- one of the highlights of Kagoshima's traditional Ohara dance festival
Napoli Avenue is the thoroughfare that stretches from Kagoshima Central Station to the local port. Japan's famed light designer Mikiko Ishii produced the light installations.
Kagoshima city puts on a brilliant display of lights throughout the year, adding more installations in the winter. It is actually the best time for illuminations as the crisp air makes them even more beautiful at night .
Kagoshima's 3 best spots to enjoy light displays
Various venues around Kagoshima -- including malls, stations and parks -- have spectacular light decorations. Our Kagoshima-based writer chose the 3 best places to enjoy some of the city's biggest, most unique and easy to reach illuminations.
1. Minato Ohdori Park -- Elegant and calming lights
Minato Ohdori Park is the area that runs straight from Kagoshima City Hall to Kagoshima Port.
The park has many visitors throughout the day, especially joggers and people walking their dogs.
This peaceful park drastically changes in the winter when it bathes in nocturnal lights.
Elm trees and water fountain bathed in lights
The light displays at City Hall's main block are the most impressive. The handsome building, which dates back to 1937, is a registered tangible cultural property.
Monument and Kagoshima City Hall decorated in lights
About 120-thousand light bulbs are installed at Minato Odori Park. It takes nearly a month to wrap each of the elm trees with LED lights.
Elm trees decorated with 120-thousand light bulbs
The illuminations at Odori Park create a calming, mature ambience. The light decorations are warm, relaxing, and low-key -- making this spot ideal for a romantic date night. The illuminations are also worth visiting even without a significant other.
Glittering elm trees and fountain
【Minato Odori Park Illuminations】
Duration：December 1〜January 31
Hours：18:00〜22:00（until 0:15 on December 24 and December 31）
Notes：Lighting up times - 19:00 / 20:00 / 21:00（Midnight on December 25 and January 1）
2. Tenmon-kan Millionation -- Perfect for families
Tenmon-kan is Kagoshima's busiest district, named after a planetarium of the same name built here in the late 18th century.
The area is packed with crowds throughout the day, visiting the local department store or the many eateries along this 2 kilometer shopping street.
Tenmon-kan Park, which stands in a corner of this neighborhood, is a wonderful place to enjoy illuminations.
Shiny and bright Tenmon-kan Millionation
A million light bulbs are installed around the entire park for the "Tenmon-kan Millionation."
Colorful path of lights
Kids will love the dizzying array of constantly flashing red, blue, green, yellow, pink and purple lights. The site has a dreamy, almost theme park like feel.
Kids love this tunnel of lights!
Another highlight of the Tenmon-kan Millionation is the train that travels through the lights. The Fantastic Train is a small-sized locomotive enormously popular with families.
Fantastic Train decked with lights
Duration：December 20 〜 January 31
Hours：18:00～22:00（open until 0:30 on December 24 & 25）
Notes：Fantastic Train fare 300 yen
3. "Light Fantasy and the Happiness Hill" offers sweeping views of the city lights below
About a ten-minute drive from Kagoshima Central Station takes you to one of Kagoshima's leading hotels -- Shiroyama Hotel Kagoshima. The hotel has a chapel and several banquet rooms and is a popular venue for weddings.
It also hosts an illumination event every winter, called "Light Fantasy and Happiness Hill." Visitors are welcomed with a seemingly endless staircase created by lights. What could possibly be at the top of the steps? The first part of the illumination is named "Light Fantasy."
Staircase of white lights
The venue atop the staircase is called "Happiness Hill." Couples love to take photos with the horse carriage, and the pair of angel's wings.
Angel wings and horse carriage
Another landmark of Happiness Hill is a massive tree of lights. It stands next to a fountain lit up at night in soft gradations of color. A total of approximately 170-thousand light bulbs were used to install the "Light Fantasy and Happiness Hill" area.
Giant tree of lights
Shiroyama Hotel Kagoshima has a special treat for visitors. It offers fantastic views of the city below. You will see the brightly lit streets of Tenmon-kan and the area leading to City Hall. The dark Kinko-bay can also be seen in the distance. This exceptional view is one worth sharing with someone special.
Sparkling view of the cityscape below
【Light Fantasy and Happiness Hill】
Duration：October 27〜February 28（runs until February 29 during leap year)
Hours：17:00～23:00（open until 0:30 on December 24, 25）
Hop on a bus to enjoy the illuminations across town
Public transport will easily take you to all three of the illumination venues featured in this article. For a hassle-free ride, take the "Night View" service operated by Kagoshima City View tourist bus.
"Night View" route bus stop
The "Night View" service has its own bus stops which stand near the illumination venues, so there's no need to worry about getting lost after dark. The buses usually only runs on Saturdays, but during the illumination season in January and February, they run on Fridays too. You can pick up a one-day pass that entitles you to unlimited rides.
Bus stops located near illumination venues
【Kagoshima City View "Night View Course"】
Operating days：Every Saturday (Available on Friday during December and January ）
Route：Kagoshima Central Station 〜Tenmon-kan〜Dolphin Port〜City Hall〜Shiroyama〜Saigo statue 〜Tenmon-kan〜Kagoshima Central Station
Hours：Departing 19:00 / 20:00, Arriving 19:56 / 20:56 (from/to Kagoshima Central Station)
Fare：Adult 200 yen / Elementary students and younger children 100 yen（One Day Pass for "Night View Course" only ）
Winter light installations -- add them to your Kagoshima bucket list.
Kagoshima's light installations are surely one of the city's best kept secrets. Visit them all with friends or someone special, and click away with your camera (or mobile)! Be sure to make time to explore all of Kagoshima's pretty night streets too.