A train shoots for the sky at the Saishunkan Hilltop Illuminations (Photo: Mandy Bartok)

Holiday Illuminations at Hilltop

Kumamoto's massive light-up event

A train shoots for the sky at the Saishunkan Hilltop Illuminations (Photo: Mandy Bartok)
Mandy Bartok   - 3 min read

The Saishunkan company's Hilltop campus outside of Kumamoto City puts on the biggest and arguably best holiday light display in the prefecture. From the end of November to Christmas Day itself, visitors are invited to come tour the over one hundred acres of light displays at the company's property, just a short drive from Kumamoto Airport and the city itself.

Each year, different themes are selected and sections of the campus are transformed into illuminated worlds. This year, the display started off with the usual collection of lighted trees. That was followed by a train - perhaps from the notable English-language book The Polar Express - appearing to take flight into the sky. A group of snowmen played silent jazz next to a holiday cottage and a sleigh with reindeer. The front lawn always boasts the biggest display and this year was no exception. Shimmering lights and winged horses capped the dazzling all-white light display while the massive whales were the highlight of the undersea portion. To the delight of many younger viewers (at least my own!), the biggest light-up was devoted to Cinderella, and featured her coach, her castle and her lost glass slipper. Visitors ended, as they do every year, by driving through the rainbow light tunnel, a truly beautiful thing to witness as it glows around you.

While the Saishunkan illuminations are drive-through only, a small section at the end of the property offers the chance for visitors to exit their vehicles and pose beside more life-sized versions of the main illuminations. A mermaid, a whale and a few winged horses all made an appearance here, while kids could scurry through a pint-sized light tunnel of their own.

If you attend the illuminations in the beginning of December, you are free to access the site directly. From mid-December on, all cars must first meet at the local GrandMesse conference center (on the eastern edge of town, right next to the Mashiki I.C.) to be given access to the site. Cars whose number plates end in odd numbers may go on odd-numbered dates. The opposite applies for cars with even-numbered final digits. All vehicles are given a map and an identifying glowring to afix to their windshield before being sent in batches to the main Hilltop location. As traffic can be extremely heavy while the illuminations are on, entrance is only permitted via a circuitous one-way route (hence the importance of the map). Admission is ¥500 per car and is paid at the Hilltop site. The illuminations are open from 5:30pm-9:00pm, every day but Sunday.

Mandy Bartok

Mandy Bartok @mandy.bartok

Japan resident for 10 years, with time spent in Okinawa, Kumamoto and Tokyo.