”You might get hurt” sign at entrance to Tokyo play spot tells children.
Some parks in Japan are pretty strict about what visitors can and can’t do. For example, some have signs prohibiting kids from playing catch or soccer, while other even go so far as to ban practicing comedy routines.
Hanegi Play Park, though, is different. Very, very different.
A subsection of Hanegi Park in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, at the center of Hanegi Play Park you’ll find the building seen above, where kids can get all sorts of play equipment. You might also notice kids on the roof. What you won’t notice, though, is a conventional stairway or ladder that leads to the roof, or any sort of safety railing around it.
That’s because Hanegi Play Park is more concerned with letting kids play freely than keeping them 100-percent safe all the time.
▼ As proof, this girl just jumped off the roof behind her.
小山弘美 (@koyahiro2012) April 08, 2012
This philosophy also manifests itself in some of the “play” items offered to kids, like actual sharpened saws, nails, and hammers.
▼ Japanese saws are actually more like knives.
Oh, and playing with fire is OK too. In addition to just-for-fun bonfires, kids can also have open-air cookouts, and there are also garden plots where rice is grown.
ゆるとぴあ (@yuru_topia) March 29, 2015
▼ Rice plot
▼ “Kids’ furnace”
You’ll need a good knife for most types of cooking, but don’t worry, because Hanegi Play Park sometimes has knife-sharpening lessons!
A lot of the wooden slides and other play equipment had a hand-made look to it, because it is hand-made. You’ll frequently see kids themselves hammering together wooden boards to make forts or other simple structures.
▼ No soft padded surfaces here.
“Isn’t this dangerous?” you might be asking, and the park itself acknowledges that it is…sort of. We spoke to two volunteers (Hanegi Play Park also has paid staff), mothers who frequented the ark when their own children were younger, and they told us “Of course sometimes the kids get small injuries, but that’s usually a learning experience for them. We want people who know the purpose of letting kids play to visit our park.”
▼ Commemorative signs proudly list the park’s monthly “Nail-Hammering Champions.”
As for fire safety, the volunteers told us that at the time of the park’s founding, 40 years ago, there was resistance from the local authorities. But after extended meetings with the fire department and explaining the set-up the park was planning for cooking and bonfire spaces, their plan was approved.
Still, it can be a little jarring to be walking through what at first seems like a totally ordinary neighborhood park, only to suddenly come across kids wielding saws, building fires, and scaling buildings. So to make sure no one thinks they’ve stumbled into a suburban Tokyo version of Lord of the Flies, there are prominent signs posted at the edges of Hanegi Play Park.
This one reads:
This is Hanegi Play Park, a place for you to play. We think you’ll have fun lighting bonfires, digging holes, making forts, splashing water, staring into space, playing, or just watching everyone else. Let’s try doing the things we want to try doing!
“That looks fun!” “That looks scary!” “I wonder if I can do that.” “On second though, maybe not.”
It’s all up to you. If you do something well, that’s great. If you don’t do it well, then you’ve learned something new.
You might run into problems, get confused, or even get hurt. But people from the neighborhood, men and women, moms and dads, boys and girls, are here and so are play worker staff members.
This is a play place that everyone creates together. You’re not alone, so say hello. Let’s have fun!!
There’s also the sign seen below, which begins with “Play as you like and take responsibility for yourself.”
𝙏𝙖𝙠𝙖𝙜𝙞 𝙎𝙤𝙩𝙖 (@TakagiSota) April 19, 2019
Hanegi Play Park isn’t the only park of its kind in Tokyo. It’s part of the Boken Asobiba (“Adventure Play Places”) association, which has dozens of partners throughout the city. However, Hanegi is the largest-scale, and also the only one that’s staffed six days a week (Hanegi is staffed every day but Tuesday, while other locations operate less frequently).
With its unique philosophy, the park definitely isn’t for everyone, but if it’s way of thinking makes sense to you, it could make for a day neither you nor your kids will ever forget.
Hanegi Play Park / 羽根木プレーパーク
Address: Tokyo-to, Setagaya-ku, Daita 4-38-52 (located inside Hanegi Park)
Not staffed Tuesdays