Wednesday, January 4th, 2023

Meriken Park: a final photowalk in a festival of light

Photograph of people silhouetted against the green Be Kobe sign in Meriken Park, Kobe

It was the last chance for a wander around Meriken Park in Kobe before the new year. My wife finished work early, and with it being a bit too soon for dinner, we decided to go for a walk. I’m glad we did.

There’s something special about Japan at night. The country uses light as a conscious part of its urban landscape. From vending machines announcing their presence to animated displays tempting shoppers, light is an integral part of how the country sees itself.

Photograph of people walking through patterns of light projected onto the floor
The entrance to Meriken Park hinted at what was to come

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised Meriken Park would be transformed with light. The area, a mix of reclaimed land and old docks, serves as a hub for festivals in Kobe, and Year End is the most important for Japanese. Yet this wasn’t a shabby tree and a few light boxes as I was used to in the UK. This was a carefully designed show combining light, transient music and people in a 7 minute loop that enthralled and entertained.

The central pathway linking the sea and the rising sails of the Kobe Maritime Museum was the focal point. Lights in red, green and blue spilled onto the path, illuminating those who walked its length into part of the display. Stand with your back to the sea, and the sails became a backdrop, changing colors in time with the music. With the steady rhythm of music whose beat was a little slower than the heart, and it was impossible not to be drawn in wonder at the scene unfolding before you.

Photographs of Meriken Park in Kobe showing how the light show changed
Photograph of people illuminated by the rain ow coloured display at Meriken Park
Photograph of people illuminated by the light show at Meriken Park

Beyond this central display, the park had more to offer. The fountain was lit up with brilliant neon lights that a few daring souls ventured into.

The iconic BE KOBE, so often a focal point for tourists and locals alike, joined in. Its colors shifted in time with the sails, offering silhouettes for those who dared stand back from the crowds.

Even Starbucks, the one nod to consumerism in the park, seemed to join in. It stood as a lamp on its mound, warm lights welcoming those who needed a hot drink.

Photograph of people stood in a fountain lit by bright blue lights.
Photograph of people silhouetted against the green Be Kobe sign in Meriken Park, Kobe
Photograph of Starbucks lit as the sunsets

The light show is gone now, and the park has returned to normal. I dare say 2023 will see it welcome crowds once more as the spectre of Covid fades further into memory.

Whatever celebration Meriken Park welcomes, I hope I’ll be there to capture at least one or two.

My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction. Find out more.