When expatriate parents in Tokyo start to wax poetic about their childhoods and the amount of time they spent building forts, running around with friends, and fabricating tools from the castaways of their family’s gleanings for enemy attacks, they may suddenly find themselves in a panic. After all, Tokyo, the lovable, well-oiled machine that we rely on for day-to-day living, can sometimes feel like it lacks the space necessary for kids to breathe and just hang loose.
Have you ever asked yourself where children can build forts in this city? Where, after a day navigating multi-level shopping complexes, train platforms and convenience stores, can a parent ferry their technology-toting 7-year-old for a dirt-under-their-fingernails, lost-in-their-own-world sticks and mud playfest?
Tokyo’s adventure playgrounds, to the uninitiated, are seemingly invisible. Often run as temporary play spaces throughout many of Tokyo’s parks, large and small alike, they are given away by the odd rope swing near a huddled group of toddlers sculpting a wet leaf pile.
Currently, the city is host to more than 80 play parks—the Japanese moniker for adventure playgrounds and free-play gatherings. Play parks range from humble gatherings in local neighborhoods to expansive play-worker staffed spaces like Yume Park—complete with hand-built zip-lines, towers, tunnels, a fire pit and a pizza-oven.
The adventure playground movement came to Japan via Europe in the 1970s as a way of advocating for greater risk and free-play in the over-scheduled and regulation-restricted lives of urban children. Since then, initiatives have expanded to include hospital-based settings and playgrounds for children healing from disaster-related trauma, such as from the earthquake in Kumamoto. Play Street, an initiative of the NPO, Tokyo Play, also hosts seasonal events that convert entire streets in downtown Tokyo into day-long community-based free-play festivals.
In these play parks, where families are allowed to cook over fires and even construct things with hand tools and other craft-making supplies, trained playworkers are always on-site to provide support. But one thing that sets Japanese play parks apart is the ethos: “Play freely at your own risk.” The phrase both communicates the unique freedoms and opportunities available at these specialized parks, as well as the deep personal responsibility for one’s own safety.
The creative spirit of these spaces is exhilarating and expansive, even if they look unpolished compared to some of Tokyo’s colorful plastic play complexes. Parents may find themselves as busy as their children after they experience such forthcoming permission to create and explore.
Find an Adventure Playground
Kawasaki Kodomo Yume Park
1500-6 Kamisakunobe, Takatsu Ward, Kawasaki.
Access: Tsudayama Station (Nanbu Line)
Hours: 10am–11pm Monday to Friday , 9am–11pm Saturday and Sunday
1-5-2 Ikejiri, Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, Setagaya Park. Tel: 03-3975-2160
Access: Ikejiri-Ohashi Station (Shin-Tamagawa Line, two stops from Shibuya) or Yutenji Station (Tokyu Toyoko Line, 3 stops from Shibuya)
Hours: 10am–6pm, closed Monday and Tuesday
Play Park Musashino
3-21-20 Sakai, Musashino-shi, Tokyo-to 180-0022. Tel: 0422-26-9317
Access: 9 minutes on foot from JR Musashisakai Station North Exit Bus ⑱ (No. 7 Route)
Hours: 10am–5pm, closed Mondays and Tuesdays
Kokubunji Play Station
3-26-35 Nishimotomachi, Kokubunji.
Access: Nishi-Kokubunji Station (Chuo Line or Musashino Line) or Kokubunji Station (Chuo Line)
Hours: 10am–5pm, closed Monday
and every other Sunday
Hanegi Play Park
4-38-52 Daita, Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, inside Hanegi Park. Tel: 03-3324-9284
Access: Higashi–Matsubara Station (Keio Inokashira-Line, 6 stops from Shibuya)
Hours: 10am–6pm, closed Tuesday
5-68 Yoyogi, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo. Tel: 03-3481-9661
Access: Yoyogi-Hachiman Station (Odakyu Line) or Yoyogi-Koen Station (Chiyoda Line)
Near the southwest corner of Yoyogi Park
Hours: 10am–5pm, closed Thursday