Over the past few years, illumination events have become one of the stand out activities of the autumn and winter seasons. Japan is a world leader in these outdoor spectaculars, and 2018 looks like it’s going to bring even more sparkling delights to Tokyo. I have been looking forward to this year’s events and found myself exploring the Tokyo Mega Illumination held at Oi Racecourse. Using the latest technology, and over 8 million light bulbs, these illuminations are a must-see.
The unique location of Oi Racecourse has influenced the designs; horses and racing have been interpreted into the theme of a journey through time. The racecourse has been divided into the entrance zone and the time travel zone. There are two entrances to the site, with the North Gate being closest to the monorail station. Playing on the concept of traveling through time in Tokyo, the north promenade certainly whisks you out of the everyday as you watch comets shoot across the sky above and Pegasus spreads his wings across digital screens. The Central Entrance takes a more down to earth approach; the interactive Tokyo Twinkle Map allows you to walk through a ground projection of Tokyo’s 23 wards and pull up famous sights as you step into each neighborhood.
Attractions at Tokyo Mega Illumination
If you’re like me, chomping at the bit to get into the bright lights, I suggest heading straight for the time travel zone and saving the relaxed vibe of the entrance zone for post-illumination starry eyes and hungry bellies. The showstoppers can all be found in the inner racecourse. This area transports you through time in eleven stages beginning at the ominous underground Tokyo Time Tunnel. The booming sound of a clock ticking sets the scene, and walking further into the tunnel you are suddenly met by a flash of light around the corner. You find yourself in a visual spectacle, the second underground tunnel is completely covered in LED lights, as the colors change and you’ll soon find yourself galloping back in time alongside a digital horse and jockey.
Upon emerging from the tunnels it's time to saddle up as Tokyo Mega Illumination takes the reins in guiding you from old Edo to modern day Tokyo. This is a real visual treat, and the history helps in creating a magical atmosphere. My favorite scene is The Genfukei, this illumination symbolizes nostalgia and is designed to embody the scenery of pastoral life in the Edo period. There are wide paddy fields, with individual blades of grass crafted by light. If you are more into the hustle and bustle of city life, however, the lively streets of downtown Edo might tickle your fancy. This small neighborhood street perfectly captures the lively atmosphere of old Tokyo, with bright red lanterns hanging above and billowing noren welcoming you into the colorful town. After making your way through nine distinct time zones you can take a break at Nogami, the Japanese restaurant right in the center of the inner course. I recommend the curry udon, which is perfect for warming you up on a chilly Tokyo night. The restaurant also offers Japanese-style sweets including a selection of dango and an unmissable matcha tiramisu!
Once you’ve regained your strength it’s onto the final two stages of the time travel experience. The last underground walkway brings you closer to present-day Tokyo, creating the soft nostalgic glow of Showa-era streets. I recommend taking a snap here and trying to replicate it on the real streets of Tokyo, as there are definitely a few Showa-era izakayas to be found.
After you have made it back to the entrance zone, there is one final highlight remaining. The Mega Tree Garden is a towering color-changing tree. You can sit on its roots and look up as the leaves shift through autumnal shades of vivid red to spring greens. This makes a great final photo spot, though if you’re anything like me you will have found it impossible to put down your camera for a second. At the end of my visit, I explored the rest of the entrance zone which is bursting with restaurants, stalls and even an on-site brewery! The Star Light Dining area has indoor seating and an outside terrace where you can sip on craft beer, Taiwanese tea or indulge in roast beef. The racecourse has managed to capture the lively atmosphere of a winter market, and it makes the ideal place bring a date or as a fun family trip.