No helicopter parenting allowed at Fukui’s Undo Koen park

Posted by in Mike's blog

I have long maintained that Fukui is a great place for kids.

We get to enjoy numerous community play centres, generous prefectural & municipal policies that make parenting cheaper, indoor playgrounds and kids’ rest areas at most major stores and malls…and smart city planning for public parks.

In Japanese cities, front and/or back yards are pretty rare.  Some people who own a lot of land do have them, but most families don’t.  So where do kids play?  In Fukui, there are many, many small parks scattered throughout residential areas.  We have at least 7 of them within 500m of our house.  Each of these small parks is about 1/4 of the size of a Canadian Walmart supercentre.  Because people don’t have yards, neighbourhood kids have to go the the park to run around and play…together.  It’s a wonderful setup, and I would trade 1000 backyards for it any day.

That being said, each small park is…small.  Most of the parks in our neighbourhood have a slide, a swing set, a sandbox, a few benches, and that’s it.  Now that we can drive around the city, we decided to venture toward bigger and better things.

That’s how we arrived at Undo Koen – Fukui’s biggest park.  Undo Koen is known (amongst our friends) for its sports fields, but it should be known for its “kids country”.

We were amazed by the sheer size of the place we were exploring.  The small parks are 1/4 of a Walmart, but Undo Koen was the size 2 Walmarts, and that’s only the kids country part.  Our attention was quickly diverted from the size of the place when the first thing we saw was this:

Part of the fun of climbing death mountain is choosing the way up. There are several different paths, and none of them are “safe” enough to ever appear in Canadian parks.

We have only had a Bunny for 2 and a half years, but I have been watching Canada’s playgrounds get safer and safer compared to when I was a kid.  Canadian parks are still fun, except if kids want to do anything that might involve adventure or getting hurt in any way.  Grand metal and wooden play structures have given way to plastic alternatives with pillows everywhere – even the asphalt is starting to be replaced by bouncy rubber!  At Kitchener’s awesome McLennan park, I don’t think I could hurt myself if I ran at full speed in every direction with my eyes closed while on fire.

So when we first set our eyes upon what I am affectionately calling “death mountain”, we realized that we were looking at a major cultural difference between Japan and Canada: Kids aren’t nearly as overprotected here.  We knew right away that the Bunny was about to have the park experience of her LIFE.

We quickly ascended death mountain for our own interest, and the Bunny was happy to come along.  We chose one of the many difficult paths to the top without going to the bother of checking if there were any stairs – which of course there were on the other side.  At the top, we found the best slide I have ever seen in any park in any country.  We decided to go down as a family.

The accompanying music was my attempt to convey the “hardcore” nature of this park.  I went down behind Mary, camera in hand with the Bunny in my lap.  The slide isn’t just on an incline, we were supported and propelled by a rolling conveyor system!

When we got to the bottom we still had most of the park to explore.  There were climbing trees, jungle gyms, a very wide slide designed to support groups of children at the same time, a giant tractor tire, a full size decommissioned locomotive (you know, to climb on) and lots of other things.  We chased the Bunny around for a while and played with the equipment together, and then we got to the pond.

The family on the left took their raft to a little island with a little lighthouse in the middle of the pond. We admired the view from our own raft, and I snapped this photo while ashore.

There was a raft equipped with 2 sticks waiting for us, so we did what any family with a toddler would do in that situation: We decided to not care about life jackets or boating safety and took the raft to the other side of the pond.  The water was only waist deep (the Bunny’s waist), but it was pretty dirty.  Thankfully nobody went in, the Bunny did very well on the raft.

We left this behind when we got to the other side of the pond. The Bunny wanted to go in the other direction. This course has consequences for failure…and I think it’s one of the things that I was happy the Bunny didn’t attempt to conquer.

Kids country at Undo Koen seemed to have everything that we didn’t expect a park to have.  There were so many times throughout our visit that I had trouble believing that all of the fun we were having was free.  Part of me wondered if we had gone through the wrong gate on the way in and skipped the ticket-buying process.  That wasn’t the case – we were playing at a big, public park.  Even without driving, had we known what was waiting for us at Undo Koen we most certainly would have walked from home, we’ve walked further for lesser experiences.

Undo Koen was fun for the whole family.  The Bunny had even more fun than usual because we were able to do pretty much everything together, and she got to play WITH us at the park.  With this gem in our city, the limited playground equipment at all the small parks makes so much more sense.