Nature

Haru-no-ogawa, an adventure park in Shibuya, Tokyo / 春の小川プレーパーク、渋谷、東京

It all started back in 2004, when a pilot program to put playground decisions back in the hands of children started in Shibuya. Though clean and easy to maintain, picture-perfect and dirt-free urban parks just lacked chaos and spontaneity.  Haru-no-ogawa Adventure Park (“Haru-no-ogawa“) offers children a place to roam freely, get dirty, and more importantly, think independently.

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All-weather park: The concept caught wind and has expanded to a network of 67 parks in Tokyo, but Haru-no-ogawa is the only park that is open year round, come rain or come shine. It’s easy to picture children playing in a park when it’s sunny – but what about when its gloomy? Kids who visit Haru-no-ogawa often call for a bonfire on cold or rainy days. Everyone gathers around the flames for a bit of storytelling and to roast autumn seeds or winter marshmallows, make springtime sakura soup, and … burn captured creepy crawlies during summer (poor insects!).

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Seasonal fun: The ecology of the park changes as the seasons come and go, leaving different resources for the children to play with.                                                                                                                                            Spring: Spring marks the beginning of the adventure year as familiar faces return after a long winter break.                                                                                                                       Summer: The park is water-themed in summer and kids splash about in a portable pool and diversion channels.                                                                                                                     Autumn: Autumn transforms the park into a mini Toys ‘r Us of fallen leaves, acorns, and seeds.                                                                                                                                                                  Winter: If there’s a bit of snow, they make some mini snowmen. If not, it’s just story time and the kids gather around a bonfire and roast some marshmallows while chatting away.

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Freedom within boundaries: Nyu-san, a full time employee at the park, noted that there is a consistent progression in kids’ attitudes from less to more self-assured as they slowly get used to making decisions. Urban kids live relatively sheltered lives and are stripped of opportunities to think for themselves. Well-intentioned parents and teachers make all sorts of decisions for them – from curriculum and scheduling, down to food and leisure choices. Kids who visit Haru-no-ogawa for the first few times tend to ask questions such as “What should I do?” and “Is it really ok if I …?” but soon develop confidence and make decisions on their own. When faced with issues, they also tend to openly discuss the problem with Nyu-san to devise a solution.

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Made, by the children, for the children: Believe it or not, the kids lent a hand in making everything at the park; from the tyre swing to the timber catwalk.

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Unspoken rules of Haru-no-ogawa: This photo would have been better if there were kids sitting on it … but adults don’t get to boss kids around at Haru-no-ogawa!

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Nyu-san and Irie-san have been here from the start. Their main duties include maintaining the park, managing supplies, stopping fights (yes, there’s no shortage of fights here) and starting bonfires. They’ve also seen parents bond over the years and a greater sense of community develop within the neighbourhood – something they did not expect.

 

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