In Kichichoji, a small city in Tokyo prefecture, there is a playground with an area of simply rocks and dirt. When I passed by, I saw more kids playing in that area than the swings or the jungle gym. And I can’t blame them- the way the kids were playing there, the rock space seemed filled with infinite possibilities to clamber over, climb on top of, run around, hide behind. The idea seems very zen, to integrate nature and rocks into playground design for kids. Not overly done or overly intentional, but simply a natural space for kids to play in.
As an extension of nature, the kids were drawn to the rock space, provoking imagination as well as playfulness. The (real) rocks may have been deliberately designed to be flat and smooth for the kids’ safety, but beyond that were not overly designed nor haphazardly placed. Shizen, the idea of striking a balance between being “of nature” yet distinct from it, is exactly this idea of having the big rocks as part of the playground design. Good design seems effortless. After spending a few weeks in Japan and experiencing their fluid ideas of space and function, this playground design made a lot of sense to me. It was super refreshing compared to the complicated (and dangerous-looking) plastic structures that American playgrounds consist of.
Does this not look terrifying? Is it just me?