Many years back when I was planning my first year-end trip to Japan, I discovered that towards the end of the year all through to Spring, Japan has numerous illumination events throughout the country. If you are from Singapore, illumination events in Japan are similar to our Orchard Road Christmas light-up or Christmas Wonderland at Gardens by the Bay. But on a much much MUCH larger scale.
Okay, maybe I shouldn’t be too quick to say much larger scale. Some illumination events in Japan, like most of those in central Tokyo, are pretty similar to our Orchard Road light-up – where they hang lights around the trees and buildings and put up giant Christmas trees. But some illumination events are HUGE – as I have shared in my post on Japan’s largest illumination events with more than a million light bulbs.
Ultimately, you need SPACE to hold the grandest of illumination events. So the best illumination events in Japan tend to take place at the suburbs. For e.g. Nagoya station area has its own illumination, which was very nice when we visited back in December 2007.
But when it comes to sheer magnitude, it cannot be compared to the illumination at Nabana No Sato, which may seem like a bit of a hassle to visit as it required about an hour bus ride from Nagoya station – but imo well worth the journey to visit. I will share more about getting there at the end of the post. But *ahem*, we took the easy way out and drove there with our rental car. Haha!
The logical side of my brain told me that for major events in Japan like this, we should avoid visiting on a weekend. But hey, we were in Japan for two weeks, we had to go SOMEWHERE on weekends. So to cut the long story short, we ended up going to Nabana No Sato Illumination on a Saturday. And was stuck in a major traffic jam because it seemed like everyone had nothing better to do on a Saturday than to visit Nabano No Sato. And then halfway through the jam the boys needed to use the toilet so we had to get out of the jam, let them use the toilet at a convenience store (where there as a long queue for the toilet) and rejoin the jam. And after we FINALLY got through the jam, found a lot to park our car and rushed to the entrance with like 2+ hours left before they closed, we were greeted by the long queue of people like us still trying to buy tickets to get into the event.
While the husband was queuing for tickets, the kids and I entertained ourselves by checking out the decorations around the entrance and found a giant Peter Rabbit. I had NO idea Peter Rabbit was such as big thing in Japan until this trip. Earlier we were staying at Slow House Villa and they had these Peter Rabbit huts. And now we see Peter Rabbit again.
We finally got our tickets and discovered that the admission ticket (which last year cost 2100 yen per pax but this year cost 2300 yen per pax – Wow, inflation!) came with a 1000 yen dining voucher. Which meant that we had to have dinner inside the event so as to not waste our dining vouchers right? Well, EVERYONE had to have dinner inside so as to not waste THEIR dining vouchers. So you can imagine we had to queue for dinner once inside.
The good thing was that there was more than one restaurant inside Nabana No Sato and I think MOST of the people were done with their dinner at 8pm coz this was Japan and not France or something. We managed to get a table relatively quickly at Nagashima Beer Garden, because I think after hours behind the wheel, I deserved some beer to regain my sanity.
After we had our dinner, it was time to explore the illumination event proper! What surprised me when we first entered the event ground was that we were greeted with autumn leaves rather than light bulbs. Not that I minded.. I LOVE autumn foliage!
There was a path for us to follow through the event and everyone had to move in the same direction for crowd control. So the autumn leaves were actually part of the end of the path. As much as I would like to dash towards the autumn trees, we decided to be Japanese-order-abiding tourists and followed the direction signs, reaching the field of blue lights first.
The route went around a large pond which reflected the surrounding lights.
Sorry, I just HAVE to insert a photo of the boys as #BeenHereDoneThat evidence.
And there was a trail of lights inside the pond that kept changing colours. We sat around for a while watching the changing lights before quickly moving on as we didn’t have that much time until they closed.
We saw a ride that was sort of an observation deck to bring us up to the sky to see the illumination from above. The boys kept saying they wanted to go on the ride – and so did I! But you can probably guess that there was a long queue for the ride, and if we queued for the ride, we wouldn’t have time to see the rest of the illumination. So we had to give it a miss. Real bummer.
We continued our way down, passing by some beautiful maple trees.
I super loved how the pond reflected the autumn colours!
We also saw some tangerine trees – which I thought was kind of random.
Then we reached one of the highlights of the event – the illuminated tunnel! It was such a magical feeling walking through that tunnel!
And when we emerged from the tunnel, there were lights EVERYWHERE!
Another highlight of the Nabano no Sato Illumination was this giant LED screen which played an animation repeatedly.
We watched a round of the animation and moved on, exiting the area via another illuminated tunnel.
And as we walked towards the exit, we found ourselves strolling through the Japanese-style garden I mentioned earlier.
In the midst of announcements that they were closing soon, we spent all our remaining time at Nabana no Sato admiring the autumn foliage instead of the twinkly lights. Because illuminations – we kind of have them in Singapore, though nothing of such scale. But autumn foliage is something we definitely do not have in Singapore. Unless Gardens by the Bay decides to import them like how they imported cherry blossoms?
And just before we left, we saw a sight that pretty much summed up what made the illumination at Nabana no Sato so special. It was not just about the millions of light bulbs, but the combination of the lights and autumn foliage.
Nabana No Sato illumination runs from end October to early May. Which means that it runs through Spring as well. I noticed some cherry trees at Nabana No Sato while I was there, so I can imagine it would be equally amazing to visit in Spring when cherry blossoms are in bloom.
This is an illumination event that I do not regret visiting, despite the crazy traffic jam I had to endure to get there. I highly recommend you take this side trip from Nagoya, or make this a stop if you are driving say, between Tokyo / Mount Fuji and Kyoto. However, do TRY to avoid weekends or if you really have to go on weekends, GO EARLY so that you have ample time for dinner and to take the ride. You can enter Nabana No Sato anytime in the day (they open at 9am – just that they don’t switch on the lights until after dark), so don’t wait until the evening to go there.
Getting to Nabana No Sato Illumination:
From Nagoya station, there is a direct bus from Meitetsu Bus Centre to Nabana no Sato. The ride takes about 50 minutes and cost 1060 yen per adult per way (half price for children). The bus is not very frequent and in high demand during illumination period, so do check the timetable and purchase your return bus tickets in advance.
> Click here for bus timetable (Nagoya -> Nabana no Sato)
> Click here for bus timetable (Nabana no Sato -> Nagoya)
Alternatively, during illumination period, you can take the train to Kintetsu-Nagashima station. (When using Hyperdia to check for train route, key ‘KINTETSUNAGASHIMA’ as your destination.) From there, catch the bus from Kintestsu-Nagashima station to Nabana no Sato.
> Click here for bus timetable
For more access information, visit Nagashima Onsen’s website.
Information on Nabana No Sato Illumination:
Date: End October – Early May
> Please check official website for exact dates as they fluctuate from year to year.
Time: From dark to 9pm on weekdays / 10 pm on weekends and holidays.
> Check calendar for exact light-up timing and closing time for each day.
Admission: 2300yen per pax (elementary school age and above). Includes 1000yen dining voucher.
Map Code: 38 894 323
Official Website: Homepage
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