Kids Web Japan

Run Wild at an Adventure Playground

Children playing in an adventure playground

What is an "adventure playground"? Adventure playgrounds are outdoor obstacle courses set up in natural surroundings where children can run, jump and swing their way from start to finish. Today, we'll be taking a look at Japanese adventure playgrounds, which are known in Japan as "field athletics."

What Is a "Field Athletic?"

The Japanese "field athletic" style of adventure playground has a surprisingly long history, first dating back to 1970. They were first trademarked in 1973, and the first ever course opened in 1974 in Shizuoka Prefecture. They spread across the country from there, and there are now more than one thousand field athletic adventure playgrounds throughout the whole of Japan.

The first field athletic adventure playgrounds were devised as places where kids could run wild and stay active while being surrounded by nature. The idea was for kids to learn what their own bodies are capable of, enjoy the natural surroundings, and develop healthy bodies and minds, all while having fun. It's not just about having fun; at these playgrounds children are able to learn all about their own strength and growth — how far they can run, how high they can jump, and how many new things they can try!

By running wild in the wild, kids can develop their spirit of adventure. (Images courtesy of Ota City Public Hearing and Public Relations Division)

“Athle-Circuit” is a typical example of a field athletic-style adventure playground. In this most popular variety of adventure playground, you can jump from tree to tree, cross rope bridges, ride on wooden rafts, and much more in over 20 different types of activity. The rule of thumb is to complete each part of the course in order, but you're welcome to take a break in between or switch up the order if you're having difficulty.

“Athle-Circuit” features a variety of obstacles and equipment to conquer. It's the most famous type of adventure playground in Japan. (Images courtesy of Ota City Public Hearing and Public Relations Division)

Other varieties include "Athle-Wars," where challengers overcome obstacles to reach a specific goal in the woods or forest; "Athle-Tower," where the aim is to reach the top of a tower-shaped obstacle course; and "Athle-Bike," where challengers ride across obstacles on bikes.

What Makes "Field Athletics" So Appealing?

The most appealing part of “field athletic” adventure playgrounds is being able to get up close and personal with trees and wood. The Japan Field-Athletics Association oversees all adventure playgrounds across the country, and all playgrounds that have been officially approved by the Association use playground equipment made from natural wood, which has been stripped of its bark. The playgrounds are made by taking advantage of the natural geography of the area and leaving the landscape intact as much as possible, tweaking it only very slightly during construction, and using as little metal as possible. This results in playground equipment that is as close to being completely natural as possible. Playground equipment that has been made using a lot of wood can help playtime to feel more relaxed, in much the same way that being inside of a house made of wood can have a calming effect.

Each course has been made so that you can feel the positive characteristics of wood.

Playing freely in nature like this is a really pleasant experience. For people who can't normally do things like run through the mountains or swim in river or lakes, it lets them experience the sense of exhilaration that getting close to nature can bring. With the sound of the wind in the trees and birdsong as well as the wooden playground equipment, it's an atmosphere that you just can't get in the city.

Playing on equipment that has been built in natural surroundings offers a break from the everyday.

At adventure playgrounds, there are no instructors or leaders. One distinctive feature of adventure playgrounds is that visitors decide how far they can go and which obstacles they can handle by looking at what is in front of them and assessing their own physical strength and abilities.

Adventure playgrounds can be enjoyed in all kinds of ways, with each park offering its own variety — including crossing the water on floating wooden boards! (Images courtesy of Ota City Public Hearing and Public Relations Division)

Field athletic adventure playgrounds were created in Japan, and have been appreciated for many years. Being in close contact with nature and exercising in nature is a valuable experience for both children and adults alike. When you visit Japan, why not try an adventure playground?