Travelers' Experiences

Awaji (Family) Winter Wonderland

A Memorable Weekend Getaway: Exploring North Awaji with My Family

Awaji Island is a hidden gem waiting to be explored. From lush gardens and mouth-watering cuisine to stunning countryside and beautiful seaside locations to exciting and fun activities, Awaji Island has something for everyone.

That’s especially true at this time of the year. When the colder weather arrives, Awaji Island transforms into a magical winter wonderland. With its charming atmosphere, picturesque landscapes, and a plethora of activities, it offers the perfect destination for a family winter weekend. The seasonal illuminations give everything a festive feel. The sparkle and glow of the lights warm us inside and really put us in a holiday mood. Here is the story of my family’s Awaji Winter Wonderland.

Day 1

The incredible thing for me, and the thing that always surprises me when I catch my first glimpse of the impressive Akashi Kaikyo Bridge is that, although Awaji feels like a far-off exotic land, it’s actually super close to the big cities of central Japan. Kobe is just 40 minutes away by car. We headed straight over and into the Awaji service area for a pit stop. My wife wanted to check out the souvenirs, the kids wanted a go on the Ferris wheel, and I needed a hit of coffee after the drive from Nagoya.

Day one sort of belonged to my daughter, and she is absolutely mad for Hello Kitty, with whom she shares a birthday (November 1st, fact fans), so after our pit stop, we headed along the west coast road to Hello Kitty Show Box. Kitty fans will know that she turns 50 this year, so there is a birthday buzz around the place as well as the usual festive fizz there is at this time of the year. There have also been a couple of new additions to the Show Box set up since our last visit. Have you ever seen such a big apple? No, you have not, as the sign on the new installation announces that it is the biggest apple-shaped 360-degree theatre in the world! (Certified by Guinness)

As well the theatre (which had an incredible projection mapping show running when we were there), the apple has at its summit a cool viewing platform. Of course, there are nice ocean views from up there, but there was also a nice surprise; from there you can see the roof of the main Show Box and, wow, it’s Hello Kitty shaped. Incredible. My princess loved it almost as much as the lunch show in the Show Box. I have to say though, that Christmassy jazz spectacular will take some beating. Kitty performed for almost the whole show, and my daughter will never forget the wonderful meet and greet opportunity we were granted afterwards. She’s still talking about it now.

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Address 177-5 Nojimahirabayashi, Awaji City, Hyogo Pref. 656-1724
Access 10 minutes by car from Awaji IC and 15 minutes from Hokudan Interchange on Kobe-Awaji-Naruto Expressway.
Phone Number 0799-70-9022
Parking Free parking available
Closed Wednesdays
Operating Hours 11:00-17:00
Show Time 12:10-13:30(Open at 11:00, Last In at 12:00)
Café and Greetings by HELLO KITTY 14:00-17:00 Greeting at 14:30-/16:00- Café Show and Greetings by HELLO KITTY: 14:30~ / 16:00~
Website https://awajiresort.com/hellokittyshowbox/
Reservations https://www.tablecheck.com/en/shops/hellokittyshowbox/reserve

Click here for details of HELLO KITTY SHOW BOX

After lunch we headed down the west coast to Ladybird Road. Here, there is a cool arrangement of shops and restaurant, running like a rainbow ribbon of sparkly delights. So many small restaurants, that we made a mental note to return at a later date to explore more. It would be an absolute joy to eat on the oceanside terrace there when the weather is warmer, that’s for sure.

This time we just stopped for my wife to snap the illuminations and for me to grab my 2nd coffee of the day. Today, we had more Kitty pleasures awaiting.  

A short drive from Ladybird Road brought us to Hello Kitty Smile and a whole lot more excitement for my daughter. It was so much fun for us to watch her explore all the different areas (8 in total). Even her brother enjoyed the joint spectacle of Hello Kitty Smile and seeing his sister almost lose her mind. Her favourite thing was of course meeting Kitty again, this time dressed as Princess Otohime. Two princesses together! We were also really impressed with the Palace Theatre show too. I don’t know what I was expecting from my Awaji Island Hello Kitty experience, but I had a blast in both places. And seeing the smile on our daughter’s face was simply priceless.

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Click here for reservations

Address 985-1 Nojimahikinoura, Awaji City, Hyogo Pref. 656-1721
Access 10 minutes by car from Awaji IC or Hokudan IC on Awaji-Kobe-Naruto Expressway.
Parking Free parking available
Operating Hours Weekdays 11:00~19:00
Sat., Sun, & Public Holidays 10:00~19:00
Please note that each restaurant/café has different operating hours.
Closed Tuesdays
Website https://awaji-resort.com/hellokittysmile/
Reservations https://www.tablecheck.com/en/shops/hellokitty-smile2restaurant/reserve
Phone Number 0799-70-9037

Click here for details of HELLO KITTY SMILE

If day one ‘belonged’ to my daughter, then the rest of the trip ‘belonged’ to my son, starting with the choice of room at our hotel. We wanted a little luxury this trip, so we plumped for the excellent ‘glamping’ hotel, Grand Chariot. It’s set high in the hills and right next to the anime park which would be the focus of our second day. The two are operated by the same company, and some of the rooms (they call them cocoons) have themes corresponding to characters in the park. We stayed in the ‘Naruto room’. It was so cool with the characters on the walls and cute Naruto-related fixtures and furnishings.

It was a fun inside the room, but for me it was the outside that was magical. The stillness of the isolated location, coupled with the stunning illuminations, all set on a backdrop of star-encrusted sky, was truly memorable.

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Adress 2425-2 Kusumoto, Awaji City, Hyogo Pref. 656-2301
Located at Nijigen no Mori in Hyogo Prefecture Awajishima Park
Tel 0799-64-7090
Website https://awaji-grandchariot.com/
Reservations https://go-grandchariot.reservation.jp/en
Click here for details of GRAND CHARIOT

Included in our stay at the hotel were tickets for the anime park’s famous ‘Night Walk’. It’s a great experience; a wonderful projection mapping and light show as you walk through what feels like a very enchanted forest. The current edition of the ‘Night Walk’ is themed on the recently popular Demon Slayer animation and is called ‘Night Walk Swordsmith Village’. As you walk and watch, you get to relive the battle against the demons fought by Tanjiro Kamado. As well as a show, it’s also a kind of quest, as you take on a mission to collect ‘ore’, which is the raw material for the Nichirin swords. The whole thing took about an hour and the kids loved it. It was a cold night, but the hotel very thoughtfully provide luxurious bench coats to keep you warm. Perfect!

Back in our hotel, we bathed and got the kids ready for bed. They were still excited but tired too and it didn’t take long for sleep to come. Once they had dozed off, my wife and I stole our chance and walked up to the viewing platform, champagne glasses in hand. From there we could see the splendid illuminations of the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge and the distant sparkle of both Kobe and Osaka. We raised our glasses and toasted the spectacle. It was a romantic end to a very busy family day.

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Address 2425-2 Kusumoto, Awaji City, Hyogo Pref. 656-2301
TEL 0799-64-7061
Website https://nijigennomori.com/
Reservations https://ticket.nijigennomori.com/en/
Operation Hours Everyday10:00-22:00
*Each attraction has a different last reception time and closing time.

Click here for details of NIJIGEN NO MORI

Day 2

After a great breakfast, the hotel staff took us directly down into the anime park to start our second day. The first thing that struck me about the place, was how much it had changed since we were last here (before the pandemic). So much more to see and do; athletic and play areas, adventure areas, ziplines and mazes. They have Crayon Shin-chan area for the younger kids, Dragon Quest and Naruto areas for the bigger kids, and Godzilla area for the really big kids like me.

©岸本斉史 スコット/集英社・テレビ東京・ぴえろ

We headed straight for the Naruto area (on my son’s insistence!). It was a lot of fun and, as it’s the furthest attraction from the central area, it worked really well as a starting point; each area taking us back towards where we needed to be at lunchtime.

We were so lucky with the weather. It was cold (it’s quite windy up there in the hills), but with the sun on our backs, we had a blast. My daughter loved Crayon Shin-chan, my son loved Naruto. I loved them all, my wife too. We were all together, smiles on our faces, joy in our hearts, what’s not to love? Memories were made that day, I for one will cherish them forever.

And in a flash the morning was gone, and our tummies were telling us just what time it was. We opted for Luida’s Tavern, the Dragon Quest-themed restaurant for lunch. The kids went for the ‘hero’s adventure lunch box’, and my wife and I tried the ‘liquid metal spicy curry’. The curry was a crazy silver-grey colour, and the kids couldn’t stop laughing at it when it arrived, but it was delicious and of course we ended up sharing it with them.


We stayed in the park for a while after lunch too. My son wanted to try the Dragon Quest attraction (me too, if I’m honest), and we all wanted to ride the Godzilla zipline. My daughter just about managed to make the minimum height requirements (120cm) and, at the other end of the scale, I managed to creep under the maximum weight restriction too (110kg!!). The zipline was a lot of fun, and the top of the tower where it goes from, provided a great viewpoint form which to admire the sparkly landscape of the park in full illumination mode.

Even after we had enjoyed all that we wanted to in the anime park, we were all reluctant to leave. Partly because we were having so much fun that we didn’t want the day to end, but partly because, as we moved towards the day’s end, the park began easing into its amazing evening look. We had seen the sparkly beauty last night when we arrived for the night walk, and we could see it again now. We even considered staying and doing the Night Walk again just so we could fully appreciate the illuminations here. But we had a couple more stops to make before we headed home. Both these places were on my wife’s trip list.

First, we headed to Awaji Yumebutai, a unique complex at the north-east of the island designed by renowned architect Tadao Ando. You can explore the modernist architecture, lush gardens, and the tranquil Hyakudanen terraced gardens, all looking good in their winter garb, but we were here to see the amazing ‘Winter Garden of Lights and Flowers’ in the huge Awaji Greenhouse (the largest botanical greenhouse in Japan). This place is amazing at any time for plant lovers, but when the illuminations are on it is a truly magical place, with its 12-metre Christmas tree a simply magnificent centrepiece. Even the kids were impressed. Even without a Kitty or a Demon Slayer in sight.

There was time for one last stop before we headed home and, as you might expect, it contained one more light delight. We hoped up onto the highway for just one junction, stopping off at the Awaji Highway Oasis. This place is great for grabbing a bite to eat and stocking up on souvenirs and local delicacies, but as I’m sure you can guess, we were here for the delightful Christmas lights. Actually, I was here for the coffee and the kids were here for the ice cream, but please don’t tell my wife!

And so, with one final capture added to our Instagram story, we piled into the car and prepared ourselves for the long drive home. I was sure the kids would sleep (my wife too, no doubt), but I would have the music on low (Christmas songs, of course), and the coffee on black.

I thought back over the weekend as I drove over the bridge (looking really pretty in Christmas red and green). Was that the coffee warming my heart? No, it was the memories we had made. What a great trip, I reflected. Definitely one to repeat. It’s lucky we have Christmas every year.

Awaji Illuminations

That look great during the day:

Ladybird Road

Hello Kitty Show Box
Ladybird Road
Hello Kitty Smile
Awaji Greenhouse (Yumebutai)
Awaji Highway Oasis

That look better at night:

Grand Chariot
Night Walk (Nijigen no Mori)
Akashi Kaikyo Bridge (the lights on the bridge are usually turned off at 11pm, but stay on all night on New Year’s Eve)