Earlier this evening, I went to the boondocks of Harris County, Georgia to see Fantasy in Lights at Callaway Gardens. Seeing all of the lights as I rode through the resort complex reminded me of the winter illuminations in Tokyo. Back in my residency there, I always loved the winter months because the city lit up with lights of different kinds and designs. From Showa Park to Shinjuku Southern Terrace to Roppongi Hills to the Tokyo Midtown 21_21 Design Site and many more locations, I was always amazed at the lights. But the best of the bunch required a ride on the Toei Ōedo Line with Shiodome Station being my terminus. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the Caretta Shiodome lights.
How I first came across this moment? Much like all of the major events and happenings I took in while I lived in Tokyo, I came across the winter illuminations at Caretta Shiodome via Metropolis, Japan’s #1 English magazine. The magazine usually gives plenty of advance notice—typically in mid-October—in regards to where the lights will be and how long they’ll be around. Though places like Tokyo Dome City, Roppongi Hills, and the Yebisu Garden Place start in early November, an overwhelming majority of the major spots start in mid-November…on the 2nd Thursday, exactly 2 weeks before Thanksgiving. The illuminations typically wrap up in December and early January for some places although spots like DECKS Tokyo Beach in Odaiba and the aforementioned Shinjuku Southern Terrace go as late as St. Valentine’s Day and even into March. Getting to Caretta Shiodome started with an old colleague of mine telling me it was one of the best places to check out the lights. She said that I’d probably like the location more than the lights. I was intrigued so I made plans to check it out. On November 29, 2008, I boarded a JR Chūō Rapid to Kanda, where I transferred to the Yamanote Line for the 6-minute ride to Shimbashi. Once at Shimbashi, I simply walked to the Shiodome City Center via the underground passage. My colleague was right: I was thoroughly impressed with everything the Shiodome City Center offered…the low-profile high-end shopping, the FedEx Kinkos, the restaurants. Caretta Shiodome was at the very end of the 7-minute walk from Shimbashi Station. I could see the blue lights illuminating as I approached and the crowd—though it was relatively packed—wasn’t as thick as the crowds in Roppongi Hills or even on Naka-Dori Street in Marunouchi. I walked up and I was treated with a simple scene of blue lights that intermittently changed to green, pink, white, and red at times. It was an awesome scene. It wasn’t as flamboyant as the other sights but something about it just screamed out serene and that worked for me. In 2009 and in 2012, I returned to Caretta Shiodome—taking the Toei Ōedo Line to Shiodome as it was just a 1-minute walk—and sat in the restaurants on the 3rd floor and just looked down on the lights. It was always a great view, a great moment.
What it meant to me then? For me, Caretta Shiodome during the winter illuminations was like a getaway from Tokyo Midtown and Odaiba…my 2 favorite spots in Tokyo. Both places were heavily crowded when the lights were in full effect and I couldn’t find my groove in enjoying myself as I did during other parts of the year. Caretta Shiodome, though just as popular, wasn’t as crowded and I actually grew to like the indoor amenities the venue offered. It was at Caretta Shiodome that I wrote some of my best poetry and just wrote out thoughts for my old blog. During my time in Tokyo, I made it a habit to hang around places that very few other American servicemembers—or Americans, in general—would frequent. I liked sticking out and being forced to adapt to the Tokyoite culture. That’s why I always loved Tokyo Midtown. But when I saw more and more people from Yokota poaching my spot, I needed another low-profile, high-end place to claim as my chill spot. Caretta Shiodome was just that.
What it means to me now? I haven’t been to Caretta Shiodome for the winter illuminations since November 2012, when I dropped into Tokyo for an overnight trip to get a haircut while I was stationed at Osan Air Base. That last time was different though. I saw more couples there than I did in 2008 and 2009…made me kinda envious. It made me wonder what some potential girlfriend or wife would think of the scene and the obvious romantic feel of it. I’m reminded of that Fabolous video with Nicole Narain as they walked and took in winter illuminations. Nevertheless, Caretta Shiodome—especially during the winter illuminations—is still one of my favorite places in Tokyo. There’s no substitute for a great view with awesome lighting…and Caretta Shiodome has that from November to January.