Two weeks ago, a friend of mine from Moscow posted a link on my VKontakte (Russian equivalent of Facebook) wall: В Японии открылся зимний фестиваль света (A winter festival of lights has opened in Japan).
One look at the photographs on the site and I knew that this was something I had to attend. However, the initial surge of urgency was quickly offset after discovering that a roundtrip train ticket from Tokyo to the light festival cost over $200.
I allowed the idea of traveling to the largest festival of lights in Japan to fester for about a week. The pictures from the link haunted me. I dreamed about them. I knew that it was something I had to do.
With my days in Japan quickly drawing to a close, I decided to spend a few hours searching for alternative travel options. With the help of Google Translate, I was able to combine a last-minute discount with a student discount (which I suppose I should no longer technically be eligible for…) to purchase a $74 roundtrip bus ticket.
After a quick trip to the konbini (Japanese convenience store) to pay for my ticket, my itinerary was set. I would travel from Tokyo to Nagoya on Monday night and return on Wednesday night.
On Monday evening I packed my bag and headed off to the bus station. After a moderately uncomfortable eight hour drive we arrived at our destination at 6am. An internet search for directions to my hostel revealed that an Apple store was nearby. Since check-in wasn’t for another two hours I decided that this was a worthwhile detour. Even though the store was still closed, being able to take my picture in front of a lit up version of my favorite half-eaten fruit was an indication that this trip was off to the right start.
After checking into my hostel I inquired about transportation to the light festival. I was told that a one-way bus ticket would cost about ¥1,000 ($12). Trying to keep expenses to a minimum, I opted to skateboard the 12 miles (20 km) to Nabana no Sato.
Guided by the GPS on my iPhone, the ride took me about three hours. I paid the ¥2,000 entrance fee (which officially exhausted the cash in my wallet) and finally entered what one Japanese tourist site describes as “an immense oasis creating a harmony between abundant nature and rich facilities.”
This description couldn’t be any more accurate. Immediately upon entering I was overtaken by the intense beauty of the natural surroundings. It was still daylight and hence the nighttime light festival had not yet started. I wandered around for a bit, appreciating the beauty of the meticulously cared for gardens.
In the middle of this haven I stumbled across a miniature outdoor onsen (Japanese hot spring). I took off my shoes and socks and relaxed my feet in the soothingly warm water. I must have been quite exhausted from the sleepless bus ride and 12 mile skateboard adventure because I woke up three hours later, my feet more pruned than they’ve ever been from an ordinary hot bath. It was probably one of the most relaxing naps I’ve ever had (and as someone who used to sleep polyphasically, I’ve taken my fair share of naps).
The time was now 4pm. I had estimated that sunset would occur in about an hour (and subsequently the illumination for which I had trekked so far). My entrance fee included a free ticket to the indoor botanical garden. I decided that this was an appropriate time to check it out.
I was initially quite impressed by the sight laid out before me. Hundreds of potted plants in full bloom composed an array of spectacular color. However, the tiny room wasn’t quite enough to fully engage me for the entire sixty minutes that remained until sunset. I did my best to entertain myself with my floral surroundings as I waited for nightfall.
After about an hour I made my way towards the exit. Instead of being ushered back outdoors I found myself in another room, even larger than the first. With the exception of the giant koi pond in the middle of the room, the atmosphere appeared to be a perfect replica of some tropical Amazonian jungle, which completely erased any notion of being in an indoor artificially constructed setting.
I finally made my way to the exit where I was greeted by a vast pond. The time that had passed while I wandered through the indoor botanical garden had transformed this oasis from something quite naturally serene into a mystically magical paradise.
As I gawked at the sights laid out before me I followed the swarms of Japanese tourists to the main attraction: the tunnel of lights. It took several minutes to walk from one end of the tunnel to the other. While standing in the middle it was impossible to see either end. It honestly felt like I had stepped into another world.
The tunnel of lights was my main reason for coming to Nagoya, but I quickly learned that this was only half of the winter light festival’s main attraction. The tunnel’s exit opened up to a vast area several football fields in size which was filled with tens of millions of LED lights arranged in a three dimensional pattern, programmed to create illusions such as dolphins leaping out of the ocean and the sun rising over Mt. Fuji. The sight was as perplexing as it was breathtaking, absolutely unlike anything I’d ever seen before.
I decided to embark on one final adventure before this winter wonderland closed its doors for the evening. At the center of the park there is a sort of amusement park ride which one visitor describes in their Flickr photo’s caption as “Bizarro ride / UFO abducting Mt Fuji.” I don’t think I can describe it any better myself.
The ride is a miniature version of Mt. Fuji attached to a giant arm which raises its riders high enough into the sky to have not only an incredible view of the festival of lights but also the entire island on which the sanctuary is located.
After providing me with an incredibly breathtaking view, Mt. Fuji descended and I exited the ride. Realizing that the park was about to close, I quickly made my way through tunnel of lights one last time, soaking in as much of the beauty as possible before I would have to return to regular world.
I tend to avoid touristy things while traveling. I p
refer to enjoy the people and the everyday life that each city has to offer over any of the points of attraction you might read about online or in any pamphlet. The festival of lights in Nagoya was one exception to my normal approach to travel that was completely worth it. If you find yourself in Japan between now and March, you would be a fool to not go visit it. It’s simply that good.
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