“Free Parks” in Toyko

Tokyo is a big city. There are probably ways in which you could define it the “biggest” city, but there are other “biggest” cities these days. Beijing has a busier subway system. New York city probably has more GDP.

But I think that in a lot of people’s mind, Tokyo is the quintessential Big City. And that comes with a lot of caveats. One is that there is very little personal space. You’re more than likely going to be sharing space with someone here. We went out of our way to find a “nice” apartment out of Tokyo, near a lot of parks and spending quite a lot of money on the rent, and yet I can still hear the baby downstairs crying and hear the over-active people upstairs walking down their hallways.

This is why you end up with Love Hotels. You can’t even hold hands on the streets here, so if you want to move on from there you need to find a private space.

Now, let me take a left turn with this. Last time I was a little tipsy (read: too drunk to finish a post), I was talking about Australia. I really don’t know what I ended up talking about, but it reminded me of growing up on the border of Sydney (about 100 km/60miles from the CDB). We had a looooot of open spaces near us. So there were a lot of stories from that time, like when we almost cut my brother’s finger off building a grass fort. But that’s not for today.

I was thinking about the overall lack of “play” equipment. There wasn’t even a swing set in our town until we were already teenagers. So we made a lot of mud slides and lots of us got GI infections. We used to row around in flood waters and generally have a pretty good time. Now that I think about it, we’re pretty lucky that only about 15% of us died.


Anyway, it would seem that the “city” nature of Tokyo has gotten to a lot of people. Sure, there are a lot of parks around Tokyo. You’re never far form a slide or a swing set in Tokyo.

But every prefecture has at least one, if not more, “Free Parks.”  These are areas that don’t have the typical, factory-made play equipment, but rather they only have a set of tools supplied by the prefecture or city. After that, you can do pretty much whatever the hell you want. And so people do exactly that – they go a little off the hook.

It’s kind of weird to me. I grew up playing in the mud. And yet now, when I see kids playing in the mud, I think “wow. Those kids’ parents are going to flip.”

But it’s really a good thing. Young kids can mad mud pies, play with water, or learn to cook marshmallows. Older kids try out all kinds of motor skills that would be impossible on “safe” equipment. And bigger kids learn how to hammer things together.


I thought that these were isolated areas, but they appear to be quite common. Today I saw a bunch of families roasting marshmallows whilst their kids swung from (by current day standards) dangerously unsafe play equipment.


But that is all good. I remember when I was a teenager, we used to jump off a 10m cliff into 2m deep waters (30ft and 6 ft). But there were some logs in the way, which were a few centimeters underwater. Somehow, we never managed to hit the logs and break our backs.


I really like the fact that even in the “well off” areas of Tokyo, there are people willing to let their kids take risks. DSC_1108


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