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Excerpt from Machi-hoiku and Satoyama published in Paysage 2020 (The Annual Review of the Association of Landscape Architects of Quebec)

Sazanami-no-mori Kindergarten

Design Various
Completed 1979-2017
Size - 7500 sqm
School grounds Several buildings with courtyards, constituting a rural campus

Located in an agricultural area just outside the city of Hiroshima, Sazanami-no-mori is a campus set upon hilly terrain with both open space and buildings, with connections to nearby rice fields, vegetable gardens and forests. The property slopes westward, does not have high-rise buildings and offers unobstructed views of the rice fields and the surrounding forest. The campus also has features designed to facilitate exchanges between children, teachers and parents. For example, the community building can be used separately by parents and community members for meetings and events. Indeed, it has its own entrance, an open kitchen with amenities, and is accessible with a key even when the kindergarten is closed.

Upon arrival in Sazanami we have the choice of entering through the community facilities or the school office, from where children go out into the courtyard to play or go to the building where their classroom is located. The courtyard play area is a vast uneven clearing surrounded by school buildings and trees. In the courtyard, various elements of play fit perfectly into the terrain, including an old sailing boat, logs, a stone wall, an embankment slide, shade tents and a fireplace. 

Of course, I was very surprised the first time I saw toddlers fanning the fire in the yard, but they were being watched. & the benefits to children are enormous: learning how to make and control a campfire not only offers a multitude of experiential learning opportunities based on investigation, it also paves the way for the sharing and development of social skills. The space around the foyer is a social space where links are formed, and the skills and abilities children acquire around the fire help them prepare for new challenges in their lifetime.

Sazanami is surrounded by rice paddies and forests, and is on land leased from a local land trust. The school takes students to walk along the rice terraces, where they plant and participate in local customs and traditions. The children also maintain some clearings in the woods, one of which is used to grow blueberries and another as a play area where they can build forts, etc.

At the 2019 INTERNATIONAL School Grounds Alliance (ISGA) Sazanami's director, Motomi Namba, spoke about the importance of food production and food in a presentation entitled "Developing the Sense of Taste in Sazanami-no-mori." Namba explained how parents pool their finances to buy rice from local farmers for school meals and how children harvest and maintain crops themselves. Furthermore, one of the key elements of Sazanami is the importance for children to prepare and eat their food together. On the grounds there are places to sit, designed for eating, with panoramic views of vegetable gardens and rice paddies. My son attended a weekly stop at the kindergarten on our last visit. He was 3 years old at the time and not a big eater. When with a group of children that ate the same meal with ingredients they had harvested on the land next door and prepared in the kitchen however, my son and his companions ate very well. By eating together outside, they also became aware of the passing of time, their environment, food production and their own pleasure. Children develop their sense of taste.

Machi-Hoiku街保育and Satoyama里山

Excerpt from Machi-hoiku and Satoyama, Paysage 2020 (The Annual Review of the Association of Landscape Architects of Quebec)

Globally, there is a strong push to improve early childhood education spaces. Japan in particular seems to be at the forefront of this momentum. In recent years, I have had the chance to visit a few of the incredible children's spaces that exist there. In November 2018, at the International School Grounds Alliance conference in Yokohama, Japan, I discovered some inspiring philosophies and approaches to children's space design. Two concepts in particular standout as powerful influences on design of childrens’ play spaces: Machi-Hoiku(街保育) and Satoyama (里山).

Machi-Hoiku is roughly translated into village childcare and is better explained by the proverb "It takes a village to raise a child". Since most preschool centres in Japan are very small and the communities in which they are housed also have limited space, children spend a lot of time outside schoolyards in the community, where education centres share spaces and resources. This reciprocal agreement is so common that facilities are often designed with this in mind.

The second concept - Satoyama - evoked several times during the conference, is loosely translated as village-mountain. It is a very old concept and deeply rooted in Japan. Somewhat similar to the English system of common areas (The Commons), Satoyama are agricultural and forest reserves that belong to communities which collectively manage them. Many schools participate in this system through activities such as planting rice in nearby fields.

Whether intentionally or out of habit, these two concepts fuel the structure and design of many children's centres in Japan. Two centres I visited, Akishima Sumire Kindergarten and Sazanami-no-mori Kindergarten, are examples of Machi-Hoiku and Satoyama applied to the built environment. The two children's centres enrich young people and the community, thanks in large part to spaces built with purpose and meaning.

Machi-Hoiku and Satoyama are not concepts that can solve all the challenges designers of children's playgrounds face, but their physical manifestation, such as community spaces in schools and vegetable gardens to grow and eat together, could be promoted and developed as spaces where children and communities grow together.

Excerpt from Machi-hoiku and Satoyama published in Paysage 2020 (The Annual Review of the Association of Landscape Architects of Quebec)

Akishima Sumire Kindergarten

Design Environmental Design Institute 
Completed 2011 
Size - 2500 m2 
School grounds Integrated buildings, playground and vegetable garden

Located in a residential area of a Tokyo suburb, this kindergarten consists of eight small separate buildings (resembling one room school houses) with red roofs, one for each class. The eight buildings are all connected by "lanes", external corridors that make up a children's “village." In addition, the school grounds include a large wooden hall with a separate classroom and play area, the symbolic Sumire Tower and an administrative building, all with a red roofs. Connected by external corridors, the buildings are grouped like a small village. Each building faces the courtyard garden in a style designed to be a calm environment, surrounded by greenery.

We access the school through the main gate, which opens onto the playground. The play area is open and offers a view of all the red roofs, allowing one to both locate and grasp the extent and depth of the complex. It is an agora for play, a large public space where children play and socialize in a casual atmosphere before going to their classrooms (one room school houses). As we walk through the playground, we begin to see the exterior corridors that connect all the school buildings, on the ground floor and the second floor. The corridors on the ground floor connect all public spaces to the school buildings, while the second-floor hallways connect all the school buildings to the office building, the main hall and the ground floor by a slide and stairs. As we head towards the corridor, our gaze is drawn upwards to the Sumire Tower, the highest point that dominates the grounds. But this view comes and goes when we pass under the corridors of the second floor, approach the school buildings along the corridors, view the children through the windows of the school houses, hear them playing an instrument during their music classes, etc. One tower leads us to a spiral slide, another to a sink. The sink is strategically located near the door of a large vegetable garden, allowing children to easily pick and wash vegetables before taking them to the kitchen to prepare for their lunch. The garden is accessible to other members of the community, who share their experience and harvest vegetables with the children.

Everything described above occurs outdoors, to varying degrees, in public spaces. The schoolyard is a public space in which children can play and develop their social skills. The 1st and 2nd floor corridors help children develop their navigational and exploration skills, while the community garden is the space where children have direct contact with the community, both the land and the people. The arrangement and definition of space evokes the sharing of resources and food production by creating spaces of social connection and common existence.

The thermal comfort, that is comfort with ambient temperatures and microclimatic conditions, of children and their guardians is a major factor in how play spaces are used and experienced. A space’s microclimatic conditions (sun exposure, air movement, humidity and temperature) affect thermal comfort. It is a good idea to assess existing play spaces and plan future installations by addressing thermal comfort issues through management and design, especially given the impacts of climate change in recent years. The CSA Z614-20, due to be released shortly, will include a non-mandatory Annex on this subject. The following are some thoughts around the challenges covered in this annex and means of mitigating or eliminating them.

Solar Radiation

Challenge / Opportunity –

Direct exposure to UV and increased surface temperatures

Suggestions –

Place shade, shade trees in particular, to block south and southwest sun.

Equipment such as metal slides, should be placed under shade and facing north.

Rubber surfacing, as well as non-permeable surfaces like asphalt, should be shaded.

Locate sand play areas in direct sun and routinely rake as sunlight cleanses the sand of bacteria and molds.


Challenge / Opportunity –

Stagnant air on hot days and strong wind on cold days can diminish thermal comfort

Suggestion –

Allow prevailing winds to flow through in summertime with barriers and fences that have gaps of 89 mm or less.

In winter, block prevailing winter winds with plants and shelters.

Avoid placing sand play areas in windy locations.


Challenge / Opportunity –

Extreme temperatures reduce comfort, safe play and time spent in the space

Suggestion –

In summer, plants and shading can help cool spaces, while permeable surface materials like wood fibre can help reduce surface temperatures.

In winter, adequate winter clothing is the best means of managing comfort, but cold temperatures can also be mitigated by creating sunny spaces and using plants and shelters to reduce wind.

Relative humidity

Challenge / Opportunity –

Higher humidity reduces thermal comfort in both warm and cold weather.

Suggestion –

Strategically layout the space so as to allow prevailing winds to flow through the play area with barriers and fences that have gaps of 89 mm or less

Falls from play equipment are a major cause of playground injuries. For that reason, the CSA Standard Z614 specifies criteria for surrounding the base of playground equipment with impact-absorbing materials. The most common materials are wood fibre and synthetic rubber surfacing.

The test procedure the CSA Standard references uses a Triax which is an electronic tool that when dropped from a given height measures impact properties on contact with the surface below. The Standard designates various heights on equipment from where the drops (i.e. fall heights) are to be performed and the acceptable readings.

For children aged 1 ½ - 5 years, the fall height is the height of the platform surface plus an additional 72.5 cm and for children aged 5 - 12 years, the fall height is the height of the platform surface plus an additional 95 cm.

These fall heights may concern the many owners with pre-2007 equipment. For this reason, the current standard Z614-14 includes a specific clause that clearly states that surface impact tests are to be "conducted from the fall height determined in accordance with the edition of the Standard in effect at the time of installation". Even if the criteria of Z614-14 are applied to an older play space, the Standard clearly specifies that the fall height is determined according to the date of installation.