Saturday, 12 March 2016

Play Without Padding in Japan’s Best Children’s Playgrounds


Australia’s playgrounds have gone soft. Rubber matting, plastic equipment, regulated heights and specified rules; all in fear of a few bumps and the occasional broken arm. By removing all potentially hazardous elements, we’ve also removed a child’s ability to let their creativity and imagination run wild. With everything bolted down and modernised, children are left with few opportunities to recreate imaginary settings and scenarios by utilising a space designed for play.

Funnily enough, despite Japan’s overly-cautious mentality relating to public safety, its parks are some of the best I’ve stumbled upon in the world. Although they tend to look ghetto and haunted, I think this just adds to their charm.

Majority of the playgrounds are built on natural ground or a concrete surface and utilise the surrounding nature. When I comment to Japanese friends that Australian playgrounds would never have concrete or many of the metal, retractable components featured, I’d receive the same response each time— ‘I suppose we think kids learn from their mistakes’.

Standard playgrounds in Australia

Below are some photos I’ve taken whilst travelled in various parts of Japan. These parks are not a rarity here and each time I’ve happened to stumble upon one, I’ve noticed a number of children playing without adults in sight. Something else I find fascinating in Tokyo is that children are encouraged to take public transport alone from around 6 years of age. On a daily basis I see very small children dawdling home in their school uniform and hopping on and off buses and trains. It’s believed that this sort of independence is important to instill from a young age. It saddens me to think that this is not really a possibility for Australian children which such a high rate of kidnapping and molestation cases.



This playground in Setagaya could be mistaken as an area for the homeless. The dodgily constructed huts are, however, creations of local children. Visitors to this park are invited to use wooden bits and pieces to build fortresses and mansions for imaginary families to live in. Close by, children can run on the cloud-shaped ramp, shoot hoops, race electric cars around a circuit and create a masterpiece on one of the chalkboards.


Children can pretend to be a salary man/woman by waiting at the life-sized model train station. With real train tracks and waiting platform, they can practise their disgruntled face when it’s announced that the train will be delayed by 1-minute. 


Three giant slides in Shizuoka with views overlooking a lake. The middle image shows an original roller slide which most children go down on their feet so that they gain extra speed. 

Children have access to loose tires to roll down the ramp at this tire park in Kamata, Ota
Imaginations run wild with the recycled tire dinosaurs and robots at Kamata Tire Park

Standard concrete slide in Shizuoka
Most public school in Japan have unicycles for students to use during playtime and the play equipment has metal chains to climb on