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Published on 
Andrew Harvey

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.

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