Night sights: ‘Dark tourism’ in Japan

Some destinations in Japan look even more magical after dark. Source: Shutterstock.

FORGET the sakura season and the fall foliage, yakei is the next big thing.

It’s not a new concept for the Japanese, but it’s becoming a big reason for travelers to visit the East Asian country. Who knew that sightseeing in the dark could emerge a trend and spur tourism numbers?

Yakei, which can be translated as “beautiful night views” or “illumination”, is where brilliant light installments transform cities into a breathtaking visual experience.

The “phenomenon” first started at the Sapporo White Illumination back in 1981 and since then, it has gone on to illuminate more cities, becoming one of Japan’s latest travel trends.

To fully admire yakei, timing and the conditions of the season are important.

The weather must be ideal for walking around the outdoors to see the illuminated lights in the cities and mountaintops. Therefore, the best seasons for partaking in the experience are spring, autumn, and winter.

Each season features different themes, ranging from historical-era time travels, the Garden of Illuminated Flowers, as well as the prehistoric Geo Illumination.

Some of the best yakei destinations in Japan, each with its own character and charms distinctive of their locality, for this year and the next are:

Sapporo City

Home to a rich brewing history, beer, skiing, the 1972 Winter Olympics, and the annual Sapporo Snow Festival, Sapporo is a city on the island of Hokkaido.

Aside from the abovementioned claims to fame, the capital is also famous for its illuminating lights in the city and from Mt. Moiwa.

Source: Shutterstock.

The Sapporo TV Tower is also a visual delight, anchoring its eastern end while the Sapporo Shiryokan stands at its western end, making the park one of Sapporo’s best sightseeing spots.

Nagasaki City

Nagasaki in Kyushu prefecture has come a long way since the World War II atomic bombings.

In fact, the city was voted one of the best night views in the world alongside Hong Kong and Monaco at the Night View Summit 2012. In 2015, it was chosen as one of “Japan’s new top three night views” along with Kobe and Sapporo.

Source: Shutterstock.

Aside from popular night scene spots like Inasayama (a landmark location for enjoying the night view), Nabekansan, and Glover Garden, Nagasaki also hosts illumination events and a candle-light festival.

Ashikaga Flower Park

About 80 kilometers from the metropolitan city of Tokyo is Ashikaga Flower Park.

Located in Tochigi Prefecture, the flowers haven is popular for hosting the largest collection of wisterias in the country – over 350 wisteria trees and 5,000 azaleas in full bloom.

Source: Shutterstock.

While the blooms are available for viewing throughout the seasons, its night view is also quite a sight to behold. In the winter, an event called “Flower Fantasy: Bejeweled Flower Garden” is held, where three million light bulbs decorate the park.

Enoshima, Fujisawa City

Located off the Shonan coast of Japan’s Kanagawa Prefecture, Enoshima is known for the Enoshima Shrine, with statues honoring Buddhist goddess Benzaiten. But it was its Enoshima Sea Candle lighthouse (also the Shonan Observatory Lighthouse) that earned the small island a spot on the yakei list.

The nearly 60-meter lighthouse, which sits atop the highest point of the island, has become a landmark symbol for the area. It offers 360-degree panoramic views and treats visitors to some of the best, most beautiful sights of Mt. Fuji.

Source: Shutterstock.

But come nighttime, the Enoshima Sea Candle lighthouse can be spotted from miles away.

Oi Racecourse

Also known as Tokyo City Keiba, the Oh Racecourse was built in 1950 for horseracing. Or at least that was the initial plan.

Today, it hosts one of the largest Tokyo flea markets, attracting hundreds of sellers peddling pre-loved clothes, accessories and shoes, food, watches, handmade items, and miscellaneous goods.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Other than going there to witness the weekday races or to shop at the sprawling market, visitors also frequent the racecourse for a yakei experience.

Katsuyama City

Located in far northern Fukui Prefecture, Japan, Katsuyama is a rural city that’s surrounded by soaring mountains on all sides.

The city has been blessed with cultural assets abundant natural beauty and is particularly popular for its nature activities such as mountaineering, skiing, and snowboarding.

Source: Shutterstock.

In 2007, it was ranked the ninth cleanest city in the world by Forbes Magazine. It was also named a Japan Geopark in recognition of its geological features and the numerous dinosaur fossils found.

For more information on Japan’s yakei tourism, visit its website.