Every December, a light festival is held in Kobe, Japan, to commemorate the 6,000 lives lost in 1995 to the Great Hanshin Earthquake, one of Japan’s deadliest earthquakes, the damage from which left many survivors in darkness without electricity, gas, and water.
For these survivors, the light festival was a vessel to brighten their spirits and raise money for aid. It was intended to only run for one year, but proved so popular the lights have adorned downtown Kobe every year since, illuminating the area with more than 200,000 hand-painted tiny bulbs.
The lights were donated by the Italian government and the origin of the event’s name is the Italian word for illuminations using miniature bulbs, “luminarie.” The installation was produced by Italian artistic director Valerio Festi and Kobe native Hirokazu Imaoka. Each year’s display uses thousands of painted lightbulbs powered by biomass for minimal environmental impact.
After the earthquake, Kobe had challenges bringing tourists back into the region, and the reoccurrence of the festival also helped to combat this problem. An estimated 4 million people come to Kobe each winter to witness the spectacular display. The city roads are closed off to any traffic during the festival, allowing visitors to roam the streets freely.
The festival has no entry fee but is able to raise millions from donations and merchandise sales, which is given to the victims of the great earthquake.
Know Before You Go
The event takes place in the vicinity of Motomachi Station on the JR Kobe Line starting at the Former Foreign Settlement and extending to Higashi Yuenchi Park. Check the website for dates.