Saturday, February 19, 2011

Spring is Coming - Park Life in Sapporo

With the coming of Spring, Sapporo slowly emerges from it's winter's frozen slumber, and suddenly the parks that have been too cold to visit up until now suddenly beckon with irrepressible delight. As the blooms stir, the hearts and minds of children across the northern island awake. L-kun is no different. 

Near Auntie-S, there's a pretty typical suburban park. Lots of greem lots of equipment, and very high slides.

Seriously, it's one of the big differences between Australia and Japan. Back home in Adelaide, parks are made to be child-safe... which means they pretty well take all the risk away (not only to children, but also parents, and more importantly the council's that own the parks). There are a few exceptions such as St Kilda Playground, but by-and-large, parks in Adelaide are very "safe". 

In contrast, playgrounds in Japan are old-school still. By that I mean that they seem to embody the school-of-learning that says that children learn from experience (good and bad). As an example, the slides that you find in Japanese parks would pretty well never be found in your normal suburban parks. Too high, and too little safety consideration. I am always amazed at how much more brave L-kun is in Japan as compared to here in Australia... and I know deep down it's because when he's back in Adelaide, his parent's mindset is more concerned about safety and risk.

Now at this point you might be wondering - am I anti- or pro- Japanese parks? Well to be honest, whilst I'd not risk my own son's health on it, I think that the Japanese view (reflecting an older Australian view that's since gone out of fashion) is a better way to go. I do think that children do need to learn from mistakes as much as successes. I also think however that bad design that leads to injury is just wrong. I think that overall however, the balance should be towards learning and experimenting - where risk taking within reasonable limits is not only encouraged, but to some extent expected.

Although the one thing I can't help but feel about Japanese playgrounds (at least in Sapporo)... it would be nice if they had real sand rather than the grey, igneous rock gravel that seem to pervade Japanese playgrounds here. I know it's a geographical bias (yes, we have real beach sand in Adelaide, Australia)... but that's also a reality of living across cultures and countries.

Yet, isn't it really more about the support that children have in playgrounds, allowing them to explore in safety knowing that parents (or even grandparents) are there to help them when they get into trouble - without putting emotional and intellectual barriers within the child's mind to prevent them from trying something difficult or even dangerous? Of course - that's all very easy to say in the cold-light-of-day away from the parks.

I do think (personal realisation) that we spend most of our time trying to protect our children, forgetting that the most important lesson is for them to learn how to protect themselves.

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