Nabana no Sato winter illumination (or: the most fairy lights you’ll ever see!)

Nabana no sato flower park in Mie prefecture (Japan) has to be one of the most brilliantly coloured places I’ve ever been. During the day (in the right seasons) park is filled with thousands of gorgeously coloured flowers, including fields upon fields of tulips. At night, over Winter (usually slightly longer than Winter; November til March) they hold Japan’s biggest and longer illumination, involving millions of fairy lights spread across the park.

I got there, from Osaka, not long after lunch time, which meant I had a few hours of day left to enjoy the flowers by natural light before enjoying the illumination. Although it was unfortunately overcast when I was there and occasionally drizzly, it didn’t stop it being an amazing afternoon and evening.

The fairy lights that came later were amazing, but I think for me the highlight was actually the flowers, especially the tulips! I’d never seen so many in one place before, and their amazing colours blanketed the park in an intense and beautiful rainbow.

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Every time I saw a new colour or pattern I found myself thinking that it was my new favourite; the prettiest yet. It was almost overwhelming, but incredible, and I’m not sure these pictures, or maybe any pictures, will ever do it justice.

As well the tulips, the park was filled with other flowers, including some late plum and cherry blossoms. The delicate pinks of these was hard to capture properly against the strangely overcast but somewhat glare-filled sky, but was gorgeous – even more so once the sun set and the park lit up.

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There were also green houses that were almost overflowing with other blooms – those that wouldn’t survive so well in the Japanese winter. I took shelter in these green houses when the light rain became temporarily not so light.

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As the afternoon passed, and the sun slowly disappeared, there was a slight lull in the crowds – perhaps those there for the blossoms in the day were leaving and those there for the evening had not yet finished arriving. One of my favourite, simple foods in Japan is baked sweet potato – usually in the form of a whole sweet potato, cooked in a little portable stove or even straight on hot coals. It’s healthy, delicious, and – perhaps most importantly during the colder months – warm. It’s also great if you’re travelling on a budget!

Once the sun did set, the lights came on. I’d already spent hours walking every path in the park and suddenly I found myself doing it all over again! But it was like they were entirely new paths, the lights and the atmosphere having transformed the park!

Trees and flower beds were illuminated. The river banks sparkled and the water seemed filled with stars. Tunnels of lights suddenly appeared in a moment, and an entire area – perhaps a hundred square metres or more – was suddenly transformed into an ocean of light, complete with whales and waves, and then above it shooting stars and auroras.

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If you find yourself in Japan while this illumination is running (and there is a good chance you will, as it is the longest running illumination each year) then I absolutely recommend a visit, either as a day trip from another major city or you could stay nearby, depending on how late you want to stay and when the last train back to your city would be leaving.

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