Free to Play


As I have mentioned several times, I love that Japan is so kid-friendly. It boasts so many wonderful parks. Here are some we especially love.


Last month we discovered what may be my favorite park ever. Haru-no-Ogawa, or affectionately known as the Mud Park. It’s a small park across the street from the massive Yoyogi Park in Tokyo. Apparently this park has been local institution for over 13 years. Their philosophy is simple and advertised when you enter the grounds–there are no rules. “This is a park where you are free to play by your own judgment.” We didn’t share the “no rules” part with the children, but it was refreshing as a foreigner to not have to worry if my child was breaking an unknown rule. And I love that the motto is contingent on understanding that ”children need more discovery, invention and adventure”. The park is meant to evolve and change daily based on the creativity of its visitors. 32033904_unknownIt reminded me of what it might have been like to play outside your grandparents’ barn after a rainy day in 1950. Despite it being free to enter, staffed play leaders help make mud, get out supplies for children, help if something breaks or someone gets hurt, and maybe guide them just a tad to get their imagination going–not that I saw this was needed. They provide shovels, wheelbarrows, pots and pans, ropes, paint, wood, tires, hammer, nails, saws and probably more stuff that I already forgot or didn’t see. There were multiple stocked sheds and cabinets. In addition, there were carts as well as an old bike and crudely made forts for the kids to play with and on. The park is well shaded and small enough that the children could be seen from almost any vantage point making it a relaxing day for the adults. We went with a group of friends, and I was amazed at how well the children played together. There was a lot of collaborative play and very little fighting or bickering over things. As parents we intervened far less than normal. img_7053Overall, it was quite the magical experience. I also cannot believe that Will played for five hours, and I still had to drag him away. I’d wisely dressed him in a swim outfit knowing he would get wet and dirty.  I also packed soap and a change of clothes for Will and myself just in case. There is water for mixing mud but also washing off. In addition, there is a changing and nursing room. The park highly recommends mosquito repellent as the mud can attract bugs. Although in Tokyo, this park was easy to get to and took an hour and 15 minutes by train. There is no parking on site, but I am sure there is in the area. They are closed on Wednesdays and summer/winter breaks. You can use Google Chrome to translate their website (listed below) to check before going.

18814560_10210542680097830_7837804724028675320_oThis week we ventured to Soliel Hill, a free, beautiful park south of Yokosuka where there are farms and bay vistas. I don’t know why we haven’t been to this park since our first summer. Wait, yes I do; you pretty much have to drive to it. I’ve lived here two years, and I still hate driving in Japan. I’d forgotten how easy of a drive this is as it was one of the first places I drove and just staying on the correct side of the road was a challenge. Anyway, it is an excellent park. In my opinion, the best time to visit this park is on the fringe of summer as it has multiple large wading pools. They are perfect for the kids to play in and cool off before the area’s swimming pools open and after they close.  We met some friends at the first playground inside the grounds. The kids happily played there for an hour before we moved on to the petting zoos which did require an additional fee. I told Will we could do one of the paid activities (choices include giant hill sledding, go-carts, paddle boats, crazy bikes etc). The petting zoo was probably not the best choice as the animals were absolutely uninterested in us. I even paid an additional ¥100 for kangaroo feed hoping that would increase the excitement. None of the free ranging kangaroos could be bothered to get up for a snack.32299840_unknown There was one kangaroo behind a fence that was willing to eat but it was a pretty disappointing experience. We then ate lunch (you can bring your own or purchase food inside the park) before enjoying the new playground at the back of the park. This playground was very fun with lots of nets for jumping and climbing, but the kids particularly enjoyed the sand area (toys were provided). We visited the wading pools last. Will was exhausted at this point and much more chill than he’d been the last time we played in this section of the park. I realized I needed to get him home before he fell asleep in the water. Having fun is a lot of hard work. Note***Although the park is free to enter, it costs ¥1000 to park.

Kurihama Flower Park is another gorgeous and free park we visited last month. We’ve been to this park a few times as Will loves the Godzilla slide. I like going when the flowers are blooming—cosmos in the fall and poppies in the spring. May was the perfect time to visit and check out the new playground too. This park is quite large with two playgrounds, flower fields, gardens, an archery range and a foot onsen.32031296_unknown One hosts the famous Godzilla slide as well as an underwhelming roller slide and an older ropes course playground, but is Will’s favorite of the two. The new playground is better suited to younger children and is more compact making it easier to keep an eye on the kiddos. This park can be exhausting to get around as built up and over a mountain so it’s worth it to pay to ride the train or bus at some point (one way ¥210 for adults and ¥100 for children 3 and over). I also recommend spending some pocket change on the delicious, lavender ice cream. It’s easy to get to both by train and car (paid parking).

Missy and her family spent the night a few weeks ago. The adults went out, had a lot of fun and stayed up to 3 am. Missy’s son, Bobby and Will woke me up at 6:30 am on Mother’s Day morning. They were loud and rambunctious so I decided I would be extremely nice and get them out of the house so everyone else could sleep. I took them to Kanazawa Park, the park we play at the most often. There is a nice, small, inexpensive zoo there. However, we’ve only been in the zoo once since Will loves the park so much. And the park is free! 18815311_10210567954729680_4579553168970324349_oIt has two roller slides–one medium-sized and one giant. The larger slide is the best in the area, in my opinion. I love that there are a variety of obstacles for the kids to climb up to the top before sliding back down.  I am also glad that Will is now old enough that he can do it all by himself. He was two the first time we came. I had to follow him everywhere and my butt was sore for days from climbing up that big hill. I do, however, take a turn on the slide every time we come because it is awesome. We usually take the train and the bus which drops us off a few minutes from the top of the slide but there is paid parking too.

5.1486972754.tire-robot-kawasaki-tire-parkWe haven’t been in awhile but Kawasaki Tire Park is another one of our favorite playgrounds. I first spotted this cool, looking neighborhood park from the train—the giant tire dinosaurs and robots begged a visit. I managed to locate it online after a few different Google searches.  Will loves the large concrete slides as well as the tire swings and tunnels. It’s also a great place for climbing on tire structures. Sometimes there are even loose tires out to use as you wish. My favorite is the tire treadmill that helps wear my child out. There’s also lots of sand so I recommend bringing sand toys. There is no parking but it is an easy train trip and safe walk from the train. There is a cute shopping street on the way where I can easily pick up lunch on the way.

More photos and information below…

This is another blog featuring outdoor play and parks: One Giant Amusement Park









4 thoughts on “Free to Play

    • Thank you. Good to know pics are looking good as they are driving me nuts. I’m having to individually format and some are still blurry unless you click on them. Apparently the only ease fix is to pay a lot of money to upgrade this account to a business site in order to use a plug-in or become an expert in coding. With that said, I like a lot of other features but the pictures were so easier to manage in the old site.


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