It’s the most wonderful time of the year — well, that’s what the song says, anyway. For many, December is a flurry of tinsel, wrapping paper and anxiety, while for others it as a time to reflect on the year ahead.
Yes, the Christmas season is upon us again, and parents around Tokyo are frantically planning out their holiday agenda. Some people will give gifts, others will attend religious services, and many more will take to the roads, rails and airways to visit family in far-flung locales. If you’re staying in town this year, there will be plenty to do with you and your brood, both holiday-related and not.
Tokyo has never shied away from spectacle, and the amount of sheer wattage that will go into this year’s illumination displays is likely to make the metropolis visible from other planets. Millions of twinkling lights always make a great background for holiday-themed family portraits, so if you don’t mind keeping the kids out after dark, Tokyo has some stunning displays.
Nakameguro River, known for its dazzling pink cherry blossom trees during hanami season, has transformed those same branches into a sparkling “Blue Tunnel” in December, while the Marunouchi area will stay a warm shade of amber with its low-energy champagne-colored bulbs. If there are any young fans of the movie “Frozen” in your family, be sure to check out the display nearby in MaruCube, the Maru Building’s ground-floor atrium.
When it comes to staging a show, however, it’s hard to beat Tokyo Disneyland and its sister park, DisneySea. As always, Mickey and friends will provide plenty of pizzazz in their parades and performances, and winter can be a good time to visit the park, as the lines tend to be at their shortest during the coldest months. Just dress the kids appropriately and bring along a handful of cheap, one-use heating pads from a convenience store to place in their shoes and pockets.
For those not planning a visit to the Magic Kingdom, I recommend heading over to Tokyo Dome City. The amusement park may not have the “wow” factor of Disneyland, but there’s much more to do in this area than the carousel and handful of carnival-style rides. Not only does its illumination boast one of the largest bulb-counts in the city (more than 2.2 million), but they also have plenty of indoor activities nearby. My kids and I love Tokyo Dome City’s bowling alley and roller rink, and the Asobono play area is great for wee ones. Throw in the new TeNQ Space Museum and there’s enough to keep everyone’s interest.
I’ve always enjoyed the lights spread across the lawn behind Tokyo Midtown. When the little ones lose interest, we head into 21_21 Design Site, one of the city’s most child-friendly museums in my opinion, and then into Hinokicho Park, for a ride on the swings and a run around the small pond. Inside Midtown is an indoor Christmas Market to warm up in.
The nearby Roppongi Hills complex is also in the holiday spirit, with illumination displays and an “authentic” Bavarian Christmas Market, complete with carols to be sung and pints to be drained. Yes, part of it resembles an Oktoberfest that has run two months too long, but the holiday feel of the place is warm, cheerful and appropriate for the little ones.
Before you settle into that glass of mulled wine, however, head up to the 52nd floor of the Mori Building to the Mori Arts Center Gallery (not to be confused with the Mori Art Museum one floor above). The present exhibit, “The World of Tim Burton,” is a retrospective of the famed director’s work. OK, so this isn’t a traditional Yuletide event, but Burton did direct lots of great kid-friendly movies, including “Beetlejuice,” “Batman,” “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” and our family’s favorite, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” The show has lots of Burton’s early sketches and some of his most famous characters, and exhibits are divided up according to specific movies, so fans can head directly to the film that interests them most.
If you didn’t get enough sausages and gingerbread at the Roppongi Christmas markets, there’s another sizable Christmas Market at Tokyo Skytree, along with projection-mapping illumination of the tower and special shows at the Sumida Aquarium too.
Lastly, how about some holiday fireworks? If Odaiba’s many illumination displays weren’t enough, they’ve decided to put some in the sky too. Every Saturday in December, expect the sky to light up for 10 minutes around 7 p.m. The best spot for viewing is the beach in front of the Decks building.
It’s always worthwhile checking your ward offices and websites for local events, but if you want to do something flashy downtown, Tokyo has you covered. The holidays can be stressful, but this city is doing its best to brighten your holiday mood.
- Guide to Christmas illuminations in Tokyo and beyond
- Nakameguro River
- Tokyo Disneyland/DisneySea
- Tokyo Dome
- TeNQ Space Museum
- Tokyo Midtown
- Roppongi Hills
- The World of Tim Burton
- Tokyo Skytree
- Odaiba fireworks