Illuminating Traditions: The Evolution of Christmas Lights in Japan and Beyond

Joel Fukuzawa
3 min readNov 21, 2023

Introduction: The Warm Glow of Winter’s Festivity

Winter’s most enchanting spectacle arguably arrives around Christmas, when twinkling lights bedeck streets, infusing a warm, festive atmosphere. Japan’s adoption of such decorations dates back to the Meiji era, originally employed by supermarkets to attract customers during the year-end sales battle. According to the Edison Museum, the advent of the incandescent bulb by Thomas Edison in 1879 led to the first-ever illuminated night scene near his New Jersey lab. This marked the beginning of a deep connection between Christmas and decorative lighting in Japan.

The Dawn of Decorative Lights: Meiji Era Beginnings

The origins of Japanese decorative lights are diverse, but a prominent theory points to Meijiya, a high-end supermarket established in Yokohama in 1885. Its founder, Kei Isono, inspired by his time in the UK, introduced ‘Christmas decorations’ during the year-end sales. This initiative, using light bulbs for storefront decoration, garnered positive results. Following this, Meijiya’s Ginza branch, opened in 1900, replicated Yokohama’s Christmas decor, drawing crowds to Ginza solely to admire these festive lights. This spurred neighboring stores to adopt similar decorations, making Christmas lights an indispensable part of Japan’s holiday marketing.

Alternative Beginnings: Kobe’s Naval Review and Osaka’s Expo

Contrarily, some believe Japan’s night decoration started with the 1900 Kobe naval review, where “ships illuminated the sea at night.” The 5th Domestic Industrial Exposition in Osaka, 1903, also featured nighttime lighting decorations. The National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo preserves a depiction of this event, highlighting the use of lights in street decorations.

Post-War Popularity and LED Revolution

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Joel Fukuzawa

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