When you think of Japanese art forms, many cultural pursuits will come to mind. The grace of ikebana, perhaps, or the beauty of ukiyo-e woodblock prints. At this time of year it becomes clear, though, that holiday lighting displays — referred to simply as "illumination" — are where the country's masterpieces are being created.

The displays rarely include typical Christmas icons like a bellowing Santa Claus, dancing snowmen or more solemn scenes depicting the birth of Jesus Christ. Illumination displays are still just as fantastical, often serving as a showcase for technological advancements in the field of LED (light-emitting diode) lighting.

"(A massive display of) lights makes people excited, like fireworks in the summer," says Shigeo Kobayashi, an architecture professor at Tokyo City University. "People often feel depressed during the long winter nights, and illuminations lighten their spirits. The (physical) coldness is also eased by lights."