As social media has always portrayed Japan as a fascinating and extraordinary city, it’s no wonder so many flocks to this charming country for a vacation. As a matter of fact, Japan maintained its position as one of the top travel destinations for many Singaporeans.
Travelling is an expensive affair when you factor in the costs of accommodation, food, transportation, etc and travelling in Japan is most certainly not an exception. Well, imagine paying a fare of S$2 just travelling from City Hall to Raffles station, that’s how expensive transportation in Japan is!
As the saying goes “Nothing in this world is free” but well, I will (kinda) prove this saying wrong today! I mean, free activities in expensive Japan, who wouldn’t want to join?
Naha Marathon, Okinawa
Head down to sunny Okinawa in December and check out the Naha Marathon, a “Festival of Sun, Ocean and Joggers” that is one of Japan’s premier long-distance road races. The marathon’s beautiful course through the prefecture’s capital takes in a full 26 miles of cityscapes and sea views, including Peace Pray Park. The course is lined by taiko drum performers, eisa dancers, and wellwishers yelling “Gambare!” or “Gambatte!” in encouragement.
The marathon was established in 1985 as a celebration of 25 years of sisterhood between Naha and Honolulu, and it has grown to a field of 25000 competitors. Unfortunately, entries closed in August, but get to Onoyama Stadium in Naha at about 9am or from 1pm onwards, or line the route (a map is available here) to see an exciting display of athletic prowess and have a great day out!
Kyoto Arashiyama Hanatouro – Illuminations, Kyoto
Kobe Luminarie is an annual winter light-up held in memory of the victims of the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995.
Now in it’s 21st year, the event takes place in the vicinity of Motomachi Station on the JR Kobe Line starting at the Former Foreign Settlement and extending to Higashi Yuenchi Park.
Kasuga Wakamiya On-Matsuri, Nara
This festival in Nara prefecture traces its origin back to the 12th century.
The name comes from the Wakamiya Shrine – a shrine within the ground of the larger Kasuga Taisha Shrine.
The highlight of the festival is the “Jidai Gyoretsu” (period procession) that takes place in the afternoon of the third day. 500 people will participate in the procession, each dressed in the manner of people from different eras from the Heian period (beginning in the 9th century) through to the late Edo period (19th century).
Nankinmachi Lantern Fair, Hyogo
Ramen Expo 2018, Osaka
The Ramen Expo in Expo Commemoration Park (more commonly known as Banpakukoen) takes place this year over four consecutive weekends (including Fridays) in December, so the dates for the festival are actually December 1st to 3rd, 8th to 10th, 15th to 17th and 22nd to 25th.
If past years are any indication, there will be up to 40 stores from around Japan set up in the park, although each weekend will see a different group of ramen makers landing at the expo.
Entry to the event is free and you can buy tickets at the venue to exchange for a bowl of ramen at any of the stalls.
Festival of the Lights Osaka, Osaka
Osaka’s winter illuminations are split into two events under the “Festival of Lights” umbrella – the Midosuji Illumination and Osaka Hikari-Renaissance.
The Midosuji Illumination takes place from November 20th until January 9th while Osaka Hikari Renaissance happens from November 12th until December 31st.
The Midosuji Illumination is officially recognized as the street with the most illuminated trees in the world with lights strung up for 4 kilometres from the Ooebashi-Kitazune Intersection to the Hanshin Mae Intersection.
Hikari Renaissance will happen between Osaka City Hall and Nakanoshima Park. A highlight will be “Wall Tapestry Lighting Show” – a projection mapping show on the facade of the historic Nakanoshima Library. There will four shows per evening on weekdays and 6 on weekends and national holidays.
Sendai Pageant of Starlight
In its 31st year, the event’s official Japanese title is “Sendai Hikari no Pajento” which doesn’t mention anything about starlight.
If it’s not obvious from the photo, this event is Sendai’s main winter illumination event.
The venue for the light-up is the Zelkova lined boulevards of Aoba Dori and Jouzenji Dori right in the centre of Sendai. A good starting point is Kotodai Station at the eastern end of Jouzenji Dori.
The light-up is on daily from 5:30 pm until 11 pm. On the last day, the lights will stay on until midnight.
Okera Mairi: Old Year’s Eve at Yasaka-jinja Shrine, Kyoto
Want to ensure peace and prosperity for 2018? Head to Kyoto’s Yasaka Shrine on 31 December for the Okera Mairi ceremony, which is supposed to ensure just that.
Okera roots are burned in bonfires, and their flames are used to light two toro lanterns placed in Yasaka-jinja’s precincts. People crowd around to light lengths of bamboo robe, and walk home swinging them to keep the flame burning. At home, this sacred flame is used to light a candle on the household altar, or to light a fire over which zoni soup is prepared. Zoni contains chicken, vegetables and mochi, and is believed to be one of the most auspicious soups to eat on New Year’s Day.
Events begin at 19:00 on 31 December and wrap up at about 05:00 on 1 January. Earlier on the 31st is the oharae-shiki ceremony for the purification of sins. The Yasaka Shrine is 10 minutes walk up Shijo Dori from Gion-Shijo Station.
Saga Light Fantasy, Saga
Spreading out from the south entrance of Saga Station, Saga Light Fantasy is a winter illumination featuring more than 1.8 million coloured LED bulbs.
The lights will be switched on each day at 5 pm and switched off at midnight.
Iwaki Hikari no Sakura (Light Cherry Blossoms), Fukushima
Extending from the south exit of Iwaki Station in Fukushima, “Hikari no Sakura” is a winter illumination that aims to electrically reproduce cherry blossom season with thousands of LEDs in varying shades of pink.
The kickoff for the illumination on the 2nd will also see a fireworks show after the lights are turned on.
Sapporo White Illumination, Hokkaido
This winter light-up takes place at three different locations: Odori Park, Sapporo Eki-mae Dori and Minami 1-Jo Dori.
All three locations switch on the lights on November 20th. The lights will be switched off at Odori Park on December 25th, at Ekimae Dori on February 12th and at Minami 1-jo Dori on March 14th.
The lights will be switched on each day between 4:30 pm and 10 pm except for the period from the 23rd to the 25th of December, during which they will be on until midnight.
Mura Masa Tour: Osaka
A British electronic artist with a Japanese stage name, Mura Masa has collaborated with the likes of A$ap Rocky, Charli XCX, Desiigner and co-written with Stormzy. He has been nominated for two Grammy Awards, an Ivor Novello and has reached number one in the Spotify charts as well as success in British charts. His tour brings him to Tokyo and Osaka, but since the show in the capital sold out long ago, Osaka might be your only way to catch him.
Worldwide Eisa Festival, Okinawa
Dance, they say, like nobody is watching. If that’s not your jam, go watch somebody else dance instead. Head down to Naha in Okinawa and experience the Worldwide Eisa Festival. This dance extravaganza is a showcase competition for eisa groups from all over Okinawa as well as outside territories. The traditional Okinawan folk dance is performed by troupes in three divisions—kids, junior, and grand prix—in a spirit of prayer, emotion and friendship. Eisa is one of Okinawa’s most important cultural expressions, so this is one for the culture vultures among us. For those who don’t just want to watch, there are also eisa workshops, a history exhibition, and guest artists.
The venue, the National Theatre, has parking. Tickets for the preliminary rounds start are S$18.17*and for the finals, S$24.23*, and are available via the website for from the National Theatre’s box office.
Nagasaki Christmas, Nagasaki
Glover Garden Night Illumination, Nagasaki
Nagasaki is a city so soaked in the history of Japan and the West that you can hardly turn a corner without stepping into a significant space. The Glover Garden is one such place. In 1863, Thomas Blake Glover, a Scotsman, established his estate on top of Minami-Yamate hill. In 1898, the American John Luther Long wrote “Madame Butterfly”, a short story that an Italian composer later turned into an opera of the same name. The Glover Garden’s ambience and history have led to it being nicknamed “the Madame Butterfly House”, and today it is Nagasaki’s oldest Western-style wooden house.
The November Night Illuminations are a gorgeous counterpart to the summer illuminations: in the brisk cold of the southern island’s winter, you can see the Gardens’ shrubbery and lawns beautifully lit to create a Christmas-y mood. The park is open until 9pm most months but will close at 8 pm in November.
“Light of Versailles” Winter Illumination, Shizuoka
Each year at Toki no Sumika – a leisure resort in the Gotemba area of Shizuoka – there is a winter illumination involving fountains, water and lots of lights.
There are shows each day at 6:30, 7:00, 7:30, 8:00 and 8:30. On Saturdays and Sundays, there is also a show at 9 pm.
Toki no Sumika (or Gotemba Kogen Toki no Sumika to give it its full name) is also the site of the Gotemba Kogen Brewery. So a trip to the light-up can be combined with a trip to the brewery for some dark wintry brews.