On my first winter trip to Japan during December of 2014 I learned that Japan does not celebrate Christmas in the traditional way that most of America does. Christmas is seen as a holiday mainly celebrated by couples, where gift giving is reserved only for those closest to you and in a relationship. I was surprised at this difference, and that you could see many couples walking around, shopping, or eating a meal together at restaurants on this special day. What they do really differently, however, is have an annual end of year light show that is held in multiple locations throughout Japan. My wife and family decided that we would like to see the light show in Kanagawa prefecture’s most popular display in an area pleasantly known as Lake Sagami Resort Pleasure Forest. During the spring, summer, and fall it is used as a type of mini amusement park with a couple of rides for children, and a restaurant at the base of the hill it is located on.
We decided to go on Christmas day, and I asked one of the stupidest questions I could ever ask.
“Why are we going so late? I thought it would be better to go early so we can see everything before the park closes.”
The response I got back was a burst of laughter and my wife asking me if I felt okay. Did I? What was I forgetting? Oh… right. The biggest issue you would have of seeing a light display is needing it to be DARK enough to see the lights clearly. After going red in the face and hiding my shame in my shirt front for a while, I calmed down a bit, ate some snacks before I could respond with a nervous laugh back. Some things never change (I still ask questions like these to this day, and have never figured out how to change that) 😉 . We waited until the sun was starting to go down, then headed out on our fun little trip to Pleasure Forest.
Upon arriving at the parking lot, the police directed us to drive to the backside since the main lot was full. No biggie, right? Not quite… the next parking lot was full, so we headed to the next closest space, and the trend continued. It was an extra 15 minutes of slow rolling and stopping for the traffic to finally get moving and we could find a parking spot somewhere on the side of a hill, in an area that wasn’t as great as we hoped for.We had to use the bathroom when we arrived, so we decided to use the ones located in that parking lot. This was the biggest mistake we could have ever made. There were no doors to close off the area from the outside, and that naturally meant no heat within the facilities. The men’s room had 2 stalls with only Japanese “traditional” toilets (these look like urinals that someone tipped off a wall and squished it into the ground), so that meant only light business in the bathroom. Luckily (or not?), there was a urinal area to relieve myself at… except, there was no urinal. It was just a long trough-like area dug into the ground, with no flusher, and it was half full of urine that was so pungent I had to plug my nose as I went, and I still cried from the nasty odors it brought. To top it all off, there was no soap, along with only cold water for washing your hands.
To put that unpleasant experience behind ourselves, we headed over to the entrance as fast as we could, just so we could wait in line for another half hour. When we finally were able to enter, one of the first sights we could see was a tree decorated with many lights. It looked just like a Christmas tree, so I was a bit disappointed since I felt it was going to all look like trees in America. We continued walking a bit and ran into the first of many wonders of the park. The fountain had sprays of water coming up at random intervals, but still using a predetermined timing pattern, so we calculated the best time to take a picture when the water had all risen, resulting in the picture seen above. Next, we found and area that was dedicated to England (who would decide such a thing is beyond me… carrying on). The lights were really fun to watch because the pattern that they were turned on and off with created the illusion of movement of the characters shown. It was an incredible spectacle that was further supported by music that matched the types of movements seen.
After watching those lights, we headed back through the gateway and headed toward the ski lift (the quickest way to ascend the mountainous area). The gate was quite pretty with its fancy star patterns, and lit up trees behind it. As we continued walking we could see that a lot of the grass was saturated with glowing lights and funny designs that resembled more trees. We continued walking what felt like an endless path, so we ended up taking the ski lift up the mountain. The view from the lift as we ascended felt a lot like one of those Mario Kart racing game tracks (Did anyone play Super Mario Kart 64?).
At the top of the mountain, we looked down and saw the beautiful lights shining brightly in the distance. There was a brilliant mix of most colors that were extremely well planned out because I could easily see the images the creators wanted us to see. After looking at everything possible at the top, we decided to return down the mountain, but we used the side of the mountain instead of the ski lift. This was an excellent idea because we were able to see many more lights that aren’t visible from the bottom. The light tunnel we had to go through was a dark blue color and extended a long stretch. When we got through, the lights going down the path all looked like water and had cute sea creatures set up every step of the way to greet us. We walked down the mountainous side, and took a lot of pictures of the Illumillion display. When we went back down, we stopped in the resting area to take a look at what we may have missed when we used those bathrooms nearby the car. It was definitely much cleaner, and easier to use too.
We decided that was enough for the trip, went back to the car, and headed straight back to my wife’s parents’ house. We did end up visiting the light display again in the somewhat recent past. It brought a lot of joy and excitement to the winter holidays, and it feels this is the perfect place to visit whether you go with your entire family. I loved the lights, and am looking forward to the next time I can see them. Until then, I can only trust my memories and these photos to hold me over until the next time.