Japan's Neon Vision Lights Up the Night

Urban Life in a Neon Forest

Japan digital photography

One of the most enduring images people have of Japan is the riot of multicolored neon light that illuminates major city centers with a vibrant nighttime glow.

What looks like a gaudy collection of signs during daylight hours:

...at night turns into a veritable forest of glowing signage. Ginza District at Night:

Where did it all begin? Neon lighting itself is less than a century old and Japan's first displays were opened in 1926 at Tokyo's Hibiya Park. Advertisers soon saw the possibilities inherent in night lighting with neon, and one in particular was determined to make a name for themselves in neon.

In December 1957, switches were thrown and a giant neon sign nearly 36 feet wide in the center of the Ginza strip proclaimed the name "SONY" to the watching world. Each massive neon letter weighed almost 580 lbs.! It's hard to answer "What if?" questions, but without that sign, the history of both SONY and of neon advertising in Japan may have taken a different, less auspicious direction.

Instead, neon lighting caught on in Japan as the 1960s swung into gear. Tokyo Ginza at night in 1965:

Today, publishers often choose Japan's urban neon lightscapes to illustrate articles on Japan's two major metropoli, Tokyo and Osaka.

Modern illumination on Ginza:

The heart of Tokyo is the famed Ginza, renowned for having some of the world's most expensive stores. Devastated by bombing in World War II, the Ginza has made a remarkable comeback - celebrated nightly in neon.

Soft pastel shades mix with eye-catching primary colors, highlighted here and there with complementary incandescent lighting that plays up the contours of the district's historic architecture.

Even Japan's far northern island of Hokkaido has embraced the unique ambiance of neon. Sapporo's entertainment district of Susukino features a scenic neon canyon of kaleidoscopic color that rates right up there with the heavy hitters down south:

Moving on to Osaka, Japan's second largest city and Tokyo's fierce rival, you'll find another spectacular tableau of pulsating neon. Shinsaibashi in Osaka's city center comes alive every evening with flickering, ever-changing panoplies of glowing neon light in every imaginable shade:

What's more, these displays extend skyward for nearly 10 stories! This is a distinguishing feature of Japanese neon advertising: not a whole lot at street level, but look up to be amazed and entranced!

Japan digital photography


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