February 28, 2016

The rules of having fun

Japan loves stability, hierarchy and public order. I’ve observed a tendency among Japanese to believe that the country’s vaunted social order and love of punctuality are qualities embedded in the Nipponese DNA. It isn’t--it’s learned behavior, environmental conditioning, social engineering--call it what you will. Wherever you go, there are signs or instructions which tell people what is OK to do and what isn’t. Sometimes there’s noise pollution, too, in the form of public broadcasts. Nothing nefarious--it’s all done with the public good and general safety in mind, but there’s a bit of a Nanny State complex going on here. For example:

“When stepping onto the escalator, please take care. Please ride the escalator with your hand on the rail. Do not do XXX and XXX.”

“The train is coming to a stop. Please be sure hold the hand strap.”

I don’t hear those kinds of announcements piped into the public airspace in too many other countries. Especially so politely. If it were Canada, it would have to be something like:

“C’mon, buddy, keep off the grass.” 

“Hang on. Or you’ll fall over. Your responsibility if you’re dumb about it.” 

“If you destroy public property, that gives us an excuse to raise your taxes again.”
Come to think of it, the Japanese aren’t too far from the “peace, order and good government” mantra that Canadians flock to. 

Recently we went to the Yamato Yutori Park in Atsugi, near Yokohama. The park was created in 2014 by Yamato City after the US Navy and Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces released some land next to the NAF Atsugi runway where Navy fighters/cargo planes and MSDF sub-hunters are stationed. The park itself is an amazing piece of work. Immaculate grounds. Thoughtful design with safety in mind, but not boring. Pleasant and amusing things to do for families with toddlers through to pre-teens. Several ballparks and soccer pitches for tournaments. We really appreciate this park and have been visiting it regularly. 

So what’s the point of this post? One of the park’s play areas features huge white jumping pillow mounds that are kept inflated with compressed air so the kids can jump, roll, and generally go berserk. Many of the parks that have these jumping pillows try to keep elementary school age “big kids” in separated from the pre-school kids, who get their own space. 

Order is paramount. You must sign in at least once with name and age. And, at Yamato Yutori park, well-intentioned retirees in bright, distinctive jackets patrol the area and scold any kids who dare to do headstands, backflips, or body rolls on the jumping pillow/fluffy domes. So it’s policed merriment.

I just dig the way rules are hammered into kids’ heads by soft, fuzzy, cute characters. Case in point, Yutori no Mori Park’s Rules of Fun below (all translations mine).

And we’ll have fun, fun, fun ‘till the geezers take our funning away.

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