Well, it’s that time of year again everyone. Christmas is just a matter of days away. When I ask you “Where is the best place to spend a fun, happy and romantic Christmas?” Japan may not immediately be what comes to mind. After all, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day are all just regular working days here.
And even within Japan itself, if I asked where you would most like to spend Christmas, most would probably choose either the snowy mountain peaks of Nagano’s Japanese Alps, or the winter wonderland that is Hokkaido. Then again, if you can’t stand the freezing cold weather, perhaps a few days in the tropical climate of Okinawa may do the trick!
In any case, there probably aren’t that many people who would think of Osaka as their prime, number one choice to spend the festive period. However, there are actually plenty of things to see and do around here, especially if you’re a fan of festive illuminations.
As always, the key lies in knowing where to go and when to go there.
For me, nothing quite says “Christmas in Japan” like a cutesy, over the top, almost garish light show, with an accompaniment of suitably romantic musical overtones.
If there’s one thing Osaka does well, it’s Christmas lights. So without further ado, I present today for your consideration, the top 5 places in Osaka to see the lights this Christmas:
1) Namba Parks
Very much a product of the modern day “all under one roof” approach that many cities have to twenty-first century planning, Namba Parks is a multi-level shopping and entertainment complex that has it all. You’ll find a range of high fashions, children’s toys, sportswear and equipment, foods and rare spices, and a great many more curios adorning the shops and stalls that dominate the building’s lower levels. In other words, it’s a perfect place for that bit of last minute Christmas shopping.
More than that however, it’s also got a world class cinema and restaurant complex on the upper floors too, offering fine-dining followed by the latest 3D movies.
However, I’m not here today to talk about going to see the latest movies, or the amazing Japanese cuisine I can enjoy beforehand, nor is shopping a primary consideration for today’s musings.
No, the reason why Namba Parks joins today’s list is for the outstanding Christmas illuminations that can be found on the building’s rooftop level. The lights, which are set a gentle, unintrusive, though still very much audible musical backdrop, span the full length and breadth of the entire rooftop, probably about the size of a regular soccer pitch. However, this is no mere simplistic, generic layout. The multi-tiered gardens that encircle the rooftop offer a range of different lighting, different perspectives and viewpoints over Osaka city. There’s also a couple of handily placed rooftop bars and restaurants that allow you to enjoy a light dinner (no pun intended) or a casual drink as you enjoy the ever evolving light show with your friends, family or loved ones.
2) Osaka Kaiyukan Aquarium
Again, it speaks for the wide-ranging appeal of Japan’s predilection for bold, brash Christmas lighting displays that even the local aquarium has been roped into joining the fun. Whilst whale sharks and penguins don’t exactly evoke memories of Christmas in most of us, it is really nice to see the way in which the marine life that makes the Kaiyukan so famous has been so flawlessly worked into their festive light show.
The lights run from the front entrance of the aquarium itself, back down the street, past the local “Tempozan Market Place” shopping centre, ending at the foot of the “Tempozan Kanransha” one of Japan’s, and indeed the world’s, highest Ferris Wheels.
Of particular interest for young couples may be the “lover’s arch” that couples can walk through. The arch will flash a number of different colours before eventually stopping on one particular colour for several seconds as you walk through it. Each colour will, according to the nearby notice, forecast the future of your relationship.
A word of warning for couples though, local legend has it that going to the Kaiyukan too early on in a relationship can lead to a swift break-up. So, probably best not to go there until you’re feeling very confident about your future wife/husband!
3) Umeda Christmas Market
Our third entry on today’s list is possibly the most famous to those outside of Osaka. A fixture of the local Christmas season celebrations for several years now, the Umeda Christmas market brings the best of European Christmas culture, goods and fine foods to the Osaka public. Whilst it doesn’t really have any actual light show as such, the massive, classically designed Christmas tree that adorns the markets huge centerpiece is worth the journey alone. Depending on the timing of your visit, you may even get to hear some carollers singing beneath its bulbous branches too!
However, the best thing about the market, for me, has to be the hot, mulled wine, imported from Germany. If I had to answer the question: “What does Christmas taste like?” this delicious warm drink would undoubtedly be my first port of call.
A nice cup of mulled Wine. Photo by Jana Reifegerste on Flickr
4) Abeno Harukas
Japan’s tallest commercial building, Abeno Harukas has a range of Christmas events, promotions and fun to be had throughout its 300+ metres of shops, bars, restaurants and exhibition areas.
However, as far as Christmas dates go, the newly decorated observatory area on the top floor, makes a perfect festive setting for a Christmas date with a difference. Also, you’ll have no shortage of Christmas lights to look out for, since you can see virtually every house in Osaka from up there!
5) Universal Studios Japan
This last entry is a pretty obvious one, to be honest. But for the past 15 years, people have flocked from all over Japan and beyond to enjoy a Christmas celebration with the likes of Shrek, Spiderman, the cast of Sesame Street, Elmo and many more.
This year should be no different, and with it being USJ’s 15th anniversary, we can be sure they have something special planned.