Public parks in Japan's urban areas are not the fun places they used to be, reports Shukan Post (Sept 12). Now instead of kids kicking around a ball, you're just as likely to see them sitting on a bench, poking the keys on a cell phone, while they play a video game.
"Somebody complained we're a nuisance, and that if we want to keep using the park, to find some quieter game to play," a youngster explains.
The main reason for the growing number of prohibited activities is said to be complaints from people residing adjacent to the parks. For example, the happy shouts of children playing around a water fountain at a park in Nishi-Tokyo City were adjudged to be "noise," leading to the fountain being turned off. It's come to the point where people have initiated legal action to get their way.
Even the revered Japanese early morning institution of "rajio taiso" (radio calisthenics) is being challenged, with growing numbers of local governments now requiring applications be submitted in advance for practically any park activity.
A city employee in the parks and greenery department of Nishinomiya City in Hyogo Prefecture, says, "In cases where more than 10 people wish to engage in radio calisthenics, we require them to file an application. This is to facilitate adjustments to ensure there is no conflict for space with other park users. If they bring a radio we instruct them to notify nearby residents."
Some gripes may be legitimate. One such resident, in Nishi-Tokyo City, is under treatment for arrhythmia. She complained to the city that the noise was causing her to feel discomfort, and the city acceded to her request.
The aforementioned official in Nishinomiya City remarked, "In response to complaints, we have been posting more signs prohibiting various activities in parks. When residents see the signs, it makes it easier for them to come forward with their own complaints."
Another thing Shukan Post doesn't like is the excessive preoccupation with safety. Due to a series of injury-causing falls, moves to remove swings from parks accelerated from around 2000. Directives from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism have seen swings being phased out; parks are also being instructed to remove jungle gyms and swings made from a log suspended from ropes.
Park swings are said to have decreased to one-seventh of their former number and jungle gyms reduced by about half.
The ultimate affront to fun are nerdy slides measuring only one meter in length.
"The kids sit down on the slide, and before they know it, their feet are already on the ground," complains Takashi Komiyama, a member of the Nakano Ward assembly. "How do they expect kids to play on something like that?
"Sure, it's important to secure safety," Komiyama continues. "But the older playground fixtures helped boost children's physical condition and nurtured their awareness of possible dangers. All these rules aren't doing anything to help them."
In the background of all these prohibitions is the bureaucrat's mentality of always playing it safe. In the event something bad happens, what they fear more than anything else is being saddled with responsibility. So more than encouraging utilization by the residents, their first concern is potential complaints.
The end result is that even for such mundane activities as playing catch or kicking a soccer ball back and forth, more local governments, such as Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, are either requiring that supervisors be present, or placing restrictions on the hours such activities can be performed.
Ban this and prohibit that, concludes Shukan Post, and the end result is an open space where practically nothing is allowed. And one certainly unworthy of being called a park.© Japan Today