Winged unicorns, elephants and cherry blossom in Japan

IT’S a bit of an old chestnut: when do you take the Christmas lights and decorations down? Traditionally, it’s after the famous 12 days listed in the song, but I know someone who strips the house of festive finery the very day after Boxing Day. 

Well, perhaps we could all learn a thing or two from Japan, where they love to make the magic linger. Each year regions across the country celebrate the winter season with spectacular light displays that run all the way to the end of February.

And, no, they’re not Christmas lights as such but the joy they bring each year is long-lasting, and they don’t do things by halves – as you’ll discover if you visit Kobe’s famous Fruit & Flower Park just now, which has been turned into an ‘Enchanted Ice Palace’.

The Kita Ward park, visited year-round each day by those in search of fresh fruit and flowers – you can even pick strawberries, which are currently in season in Japan – is  a collaboration between neighbouring farmers with a market, floral displays and greenhouses.

There’s a wedding hotel, barbecue terraces where you can buy, and cook, meat, a number of food outlets, three pools, a spa and a fitness centre. But visit in the evening during winter and you’ll find all manner of magical creatures created by four million lights.

A winged unicorn? Check. A polar bear and an elephant hidden in a maze? Check. A giant snowman in a snow globe? Check. And so the list goes on, the many eye-popping attractions linked more by their randomness than any overall theme.

I’m visiting virtually in the company of British local guide, ex-pat Kendal James, who has lived in Japan for three and a half years, where she leads tours for travel streamer Heygo as well as being an artist, writer and all-round ‘creative person’.

Regular readers of the blog will have met Kendal before when I featured her tour of the jaw-dropping winter lightshow at Nabana no Sato. If you missed it first time around, you can read about that one – all eight million LED lights of it – here.

But back to Kobe. We enter the attraction through the arches of a building which serves as a ticket desk and is adorned with a big ’10’ sign marking a decade of lights, to which a ‘+2’ has bizarrely been added, perhaps to mark 12 years? No, we have no idea either.

There are some faces picked out in lights if you watch closely, some of them downright sinister. Well, I guess you can’t have a good fairytale adventure without the odd villain of the piece. It’s all smiles once you’re inside though.

From here, there’s a view down a boulevard at the end of which there’s a huge snow globe, in which resides a suitably large snowman reminiscent of the Stay Puft marshmallow man from the original – and best – Ghostbusters movie.

A meander through the grounds reveals a wide range of objects given the Kobe makeover, from the fake frontage of a grand building to an igloo, and three giant diamond rings, in which some visitors take photos of their favourite cuddly toys.

Apparently, says Kendal, Japanese families love to take their favourite teddy bears on holiday with them, and snap pictures and selfies with the cute critters at every opportunity.

Elsewhere, there are heart-shaped arches to walk through, perhaps in keeping with the park’s popularity as a wedding venue. Several side-paths take you off into different areas, including a random field of red lights.

Some of the attractions are sited on, and around, pools including a fountain of light, the LED cascades reflected in the water below. But sometimes, you know, simple can be best – and illuminated cherry tree blossoms threaten to steal the show.

The most dramatic installation is the Ice Palace that gives this year’s ‘illuminage’ its name. Sited on one of the hotel’s swimming pools, its icy blue outlines twinkle and shimmer with lights, their mirror image captured in the still water.

A final archway leads to the impressive facade of the hotel itself, and is a favourite selfie spot for visitors.

But just when you think you’ve seen it all, there’s a maze in which to happily lose yourself for a while, trying to make your way to the animals hidden in its corridors. And, yes, that’s surely the Rolling Stones logo at the entrance. It’s only rock and roll but we like it…

The Kobe lights run at the Fruit & Flower Park all the way through to February 26, 2023. Opening hours are from 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm, and illumination hours are from 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm.

For news of Kendal’s forthcoming Heygo tours, head to Tours are streamed in real time and are free to join, although tipping is encouraged. Guests can take souvenir shots with the platform’s ‘postcard’ facility, and chat with both guides and fellow travellers.

All images in this post captured remotely via the Heygo postcard button.

Categories:heygo, Long haulTags: , , , , , ,

1 comment

  1. Oh my! What a treat to come home from work so very late at night, 24 hours after I’d returned from this tour even, to find another gorgeously presented and written article by yourself.

    Thank you so much Paul! I am honoured and humbled once more. I want to put a lot of emojis here but feel it would disqualify me as a writer…

    I’ve added the full UNCUT tour to YouTube already and have just included a link to this wonderful article in the comments.

    I did the same for the last one too!


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