When winter starts setting in, illuminations are organized throughout Japan with Kobe Luminarie leading the way as one of the most famous amongst them attracting around 3 to 4 million people each year. Although not truly intended to be Christmas illuminations, their extravagant design and colours easily bring Christmas to mind.
In Kobe the tradition started in 1995 to commemorate the Great Hanshin earthquake earlier that year with the donation of over 200.000 hand-painted lights donated by the Italian Government, which is the origin of the event’s name being the Italian word for illuminations “luminarie”. This symbolism of hope and recovery have significantly contributed to the popularity of Kobe Luminarie amongst visitors as well as sponsors willing to help pitch in in the organization of this a major event.
Another nice fact to know is that the lights are lit with biomass-generated electricity during the winter illuminations. The extravagant illuminations in Italian baroque styling are produced by the Italian designer Valerio Festi, who gained fame in rethinking Italy’s tradition of illuminations and fireworks, and Kobe native Hirokazu Imaoka, who studied Italian baroque and festive arts of illuminations and has even been awarded by Italy for his cultural contribution to the cultural exchange between Japan and Italy.
During the event, a route is set out starting near Kobe’s former foreigner district at Motomachi Station which takes visitors through the city along roads which have been closed off to any traffic so pedestrians can enjoy the illuminations in safety and without hindering the resident’s daily life. You might wonder whether this is necessary but considering the event only lasts 9 days of 4 hours each day with over 3 million visitors in total the answer quite simply is a yes. Traffic attendants guide the massive stream of visitors in smaller portions so everyone has plenty of time to enjoy the illuminations and take some pictures on the way.
There are several minor illuminations along the route such as the one above along the road leading towards the St. Morgan Church, but the piece-de-resistance is located near the end of the route a series of intricate archways that seem to form a long hall of light. Approaching them is a marvelous sight to witness and as you walk down the hall you can admire their beauty as they reach high above you. Exiting the hall you see a great circle of light in the distance at Higashi Yuenchi Park surrounded by countless food and game stalls to complete your evening with delicious snacks and entertainment. Kobe Luminarie truly is an event you should not miss if you happen to be in the Kansai region during early December.
The closest station to the start of the illumination route is Motomachi Station, which can be accessed from Kyoto or Osaka by taking the JR Special Rapid Service bound for Himeiji and transfer at Sannomiya Station to a local JR line. Another option is to just walk from Sannomiya Station to the starting point near Kobe’s former foreigner district. A one-way trip from Kyoto takes you about an hour, or about half an hour from Osaka. The end of the route is close to Sannomiya Station at Higashi Yuenchi Park.
The illumination runs from December 4th to 13th starting at 18:00 to 21:30 on Mondays to Thursdays; 18:00 to 22:00 on Friday, 17:00 to 22:00 on Saturday and 17:00-21:30 on Sunday. There is no admission fee for the route, which you can check in detail on the event’s designated website .