Article by Steve Levenstein, Link

Welcome our guest writer Steve Levenstein, the Japanese Innovations writer for InventorSpot.com. Check out also Steve's blog at InventorSpot.

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:

(images credit: Andrew Eckford)

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

(image credit: Archidose.org)

(images credit: Jakob Oester)

(image credit: P!xeL')

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:

(image credit: Thomas B. Roach)

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:

(images credit: K. Lee and Hiroaki Ohtsu)

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.

(image credit: Eitaneko)

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.

(image credit: Ryo)

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:

(image credit: Paul Dymond)

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:

(image credit: Matthias Jaap)

(image credit: A Mystery Reflex)

(image credit: Jonathan S.)

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
(image source)

Article by Steve Levenstein for Dark Roasted Blend.

Also See: "Autumn in Japan (Spectacular)" ->

Read also our popular articles about Japan:
Electric Light Truck Decoration in Japan,
Vending Machines Craze in Japan - and many more, in

DRB's "Best of Japan" Series ->

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Category: Travel, Architecture
Related Posts: Little known Facts About Japan, Electric Light Truck Decoration in Japan, Autumn in Japan


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

These are the people that will help show us all how to become Green and
use fewer resources?



Anonymous Anonymous said...

The heart of Tokyo is Ginza? I think you meant Shinjuku. I've lived in Tokyo for three years and I've gone to Ginza maybe twice. Other than that, I think you captured the spirit of Tokyo and Osaka pretty well.

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Nothing says "junk-consumer-society" like corridors of neon.

We humans are pathetic.

Blogger Orchid64 said...

In real life, these places look less brilliant than they appear in pictures. These shots have been enhanced to make everything look more vibrant and glowing.

Tokyo is one of the ugliest cities in the world. All that neon is just garish and the buildings are pretty ugly. It has the worst skyline of any major city in a developed country in the world because it's all unplanned.

It's still an interesting place to live and has many good points (great public transport, relative safety for a major metropolis, good job opportunities), but it's not beautiful.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

just got back from living just outside of tokyo. these pictures make me miss japan!!!

Blogger Ian said...

Ginza and Shinjuku are both good for neon. The big Korean cities have some spectacular neon too.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anna - we humans are indeed pathetic but it's not because of corridors of neon in big cities, a bit more perspective is needed from you I'd say.
Orchid64 - Tokyo is is extraordinarily clean compared to places like New York or London. The neon nightscapes are quite brilliant and are not ugly in the slightest, it's better than boring, dark and dimly lit streets that you can't walk down after sunset for fear of having your wallet stolen.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Orchid64: the photos have likely been enhanced by saturating the colors but believe me, the streets are just as spectacular, if not more so than the photos indicate. The proliferation of digital signage as well as the sound blaring from the giant video screens is a scifi-esque experience that cannot be captured in pictures.


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