The Top 7 Kyoto Illumination Events in 2023-24

David Taylor

David Taylor is the creator of the Forever Foreign Podcast. He's been a full-time liver and Part-time lover of Japan for... possibly too long at this point.
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Kyoto is the cultural capital of Japan with an abundance of traditional architecture, it has also become a hotspot for fantastic nighttime light shows.

In this article, we’ll show you when and where to go to warm your heart during the chilly Japanese winter. And for more on these incredible light shows, check out our Japan winter illuminations guide.

NAKED Yoru Mode

Location: Heian Shrine Okazaki Nishitennocho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto
Price of admission: ¥1,600 (Advanced tickets), ¥2,000 on the day
Dates: December 1st – December 25th

Collaborating with the art collective NAKED this year, Heian Shrine will be a hotspot for light shows, project mapping, and digital art.

Orange lantern illuminated in Kyoto
You’ll see even more elaborate lanterns
Photo by Syuichi Shiina

The merging with digital art and traditional architecture creates an illumination experience you can really only experience in Kyoto. The highlights include:

  • The corridors of light. Daigoku-den hall, a designated Important Cultural Property, is open to the public exclusively for this event. The long corridor is lit up with lanterns on pedestals.
  • Project mapping onto the side of the shrine with reflections on the water.
  • Lantern light-up. The path that goes along the pond is lit up with lanterns that you can hang your personal paper wishes (tanzaku) from.
  • NAKED Distance Lanterns. There are free-to-rent lanterns that you can take with you as you walk among the grounds, making you part of the display. There are also interactive lanterns for an additional fee that change patterns depending on where you are in the facility.
  • Light hand wash where colorful lights are projected on your hands, mimicking the practice of purifying yourself before entering the temple.

Twinkle Joyo

Location: Okawara Terada, Joyo-city, Kyoto
Price of admission: Free (donations are encouraged)
Dates: December 1st – 25th

If you take a 26 minute train ride from Kyoto station, you can visit the increasingly popular Twinkle Joyo illumination event.

Held in the Joyo city athletic park, this event is purely community driven and all displays are donated by local organizations and companies. There are over 560 thousand lights, making this winter illumination event one of the biggest in Japan.

You’ll see lit-up tunnels, golden pavilions re-created in lights, and many other scenes to walk around and enjoy the sight of. Don’t think about this as a pure illumination event, though. There are also food stalls and musical performances throughout the season.

Bambio Illumination

Location: Bambio Square, Nagaoka Park, Nagaoka City
Price of admission: Free of charge
Dates: from December 8th – January 8th

Bambio Square, next to Nagaokakyo station, is a 15 minute train ride from Kyoto station, and another popular illumination spot. There you’ll see a dazzling illuminated tunnel with beautifully decorated Christmas trees and live performances on certain days.

Christmas trees illuminated in Kyoto
Photo by Mario Mendez

But the highlight of this christmas illumination event is the traditional lanterns which are professionally made and sourced from local bamboo. These lanterns give a uniquely romantic Japanese feel in the historic capital of Kyoto.

Synesthesia Hills Christmas Illumination

Location: Nantan City, Kyoto
Price of admission: Adults, ¥1,800, children, ¥900 (Christmas bubble show: Adult, ¥300, children, ¥100)
Dates: December 22nd – December 25th

Although Synesthesia Hills illumination is open year-round, the Christmas illumination in particular is an event you can’t miss if you’re in the Kyoto region during the holidays.

It’s a bit of a hike to get there (2 hours one-way by public transit) but the reward waiting for you is an illumination paradise in the middle of the mountains. Something you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.

This year’s Christmas illumination event has 12 different installations. Here are the most popular displays at Synesthesia Hills:

  • Crystal Lake. An elaborate lantern and fixed-light display over a small lake.
  • Aurora Experience. An outdoor laser show projecting into the sky and nearby forest.
  • Spiral Light Tunnel. A tunnel lit up in twisting squares, making it almost an optical illusion.
  • Twinkle Jewel. A path winding through a forest of trees lit from the ground up in blue lights.

Adding to all of the usual excitement, this year Synesthesia is collaborating with TEAMBUB to hold a unique Christmas bubble show on the 24th at 8 PM. It’ll combine the site’s lights with bubbles for a light show that would make Santa jump for joy! On the 23rd and 25th there are Christmas magic shows on a stage from 7:30 PM.

Kyoto Station Illumination

Location: Kyoto Station, Kyoto-city
Price of admission: Free of charge
Dates: November 1st – March 31st

For tourists this’ll be the most accessible illumination event on the list as it’s right on the grand staircase of Kyoto station.

For the 15th anniversary of the Kyoto station, event organizers decided to light up the stairs with intricate patterns to highlight each part of the year. They have a special Christmas theme in store for December and cycle through other patterns from 3 to 8 PM.

Kyoto station grand staircase with thousands of lights lining the steps, forming a pattern of flowers
Thousands of lights line Kyoto Station’s steps
Photo by

In addition to the Grand Staircase and its “regular illumination design of the year” award winning display, the Star Bridge and Lunar Garden are also lit up for added scenes at the station. Finally, there’s a 22 meter Christmas tree in honor of the Christmas season. Grab some eggnog and enjoy!

Sagano Scenic Railway: Christmas Romantic Train 

Location: Arashiyama-city, Kyoto
Price of admission: ¥6,000 for a one way box on the train (holds 4 people)
Dates: December 23rd – December 24th

Note: Information is only available in Japanese online, as are tickets

Over two evenings the Sagano Scenic railway with its famous open air train tours of the Arashiyama area will hold a limited Christmas night train. It costs ¥6,000 to reserve a box on the train (reservations can be made on the Sagano Scenic Railway site only), but 4 people can ride, so the price ends up being ¥1,500 if you can rope 3 others in.

Sagano train in Kyoto with green leaves and a river on the right
The summertime version of the Sagano train
Photo by Cotato70s

From the train you will be able to see a lit-up Tanuki (Japanese racoon dogs), beautiful mountain sides, bridge light-ups and the beautiful Christmas illumination of Hikyo station. Just be sure to wear warm clothes because the windowless train can get quite chilly during the evening.

Kiyomizudera Kyoto Light up 

Location: Kiyomizu Temple, Higashiyama-ward, Kyoto
Price of admission: ¥400
Dates: March 23rd-31st, August 14th-16th, November 18th-November 30th

Unfortunately, this one isn’t available for Christmas time, but it’s a yearly tradition that you can enjoy close to winter time.

Kiyomizudera temple in Kyoto illuminated at night with a ray of light going into the sky
Photo by James Pere

Any trip to Kyoto requires visiting the famous Kiyomizu-dera temple, and this periodical event takes it up a notch with a blue beam of light shining upon Kyoto city from the temple. The temple is also lit up along with the surrounding forest and its leaves.

Final Thoughts

No matter where you are in Japan, winter illuminations are lovely. Kyoto just so happens to have some of the best events around.

Take a stroll through the historic capital’s scenic sights during the day and soak up the romantic lighting at night.

Sagano train photo is under CC BY-ND 2.0 license.
Kyoto station photo is under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.