Photo/IllutrationChildren play at the Galaxcity installment in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward. (Provided by Galaxcity)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Indoor play areas in Japan's park-starved urban centers are all the buzz, offering parents and children opportunities to let loose, learn something and interact with the latest technologies.

Such facilities, which offer fun times whether rain or shine and have numerous safety advantages, also aim to promote goods and services for those raising children, as well as the host towns or cities.

Little Planet in the LaLaport Shin-Misato shopping complex in Misato, Saitama Prefecture, was packed with children on a day in late July. They were creating miniature mountains and waterways using sand illuminated by projection mapping at the digital experience-based facility.

Other kids could be seen tossing balls against a wall adorned with projected images at the indoor park equipped with both digital and analog tools.

The designer of the play park, IT company Placeholder Inc. based in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward, became involved with six outlets of permanent facilities housed mainly in commercial complexes in the Tokyo metropolitan area over the past year or so.

For all six projects, which include facilities housed in Koto Ward's Diver City Tokyo Plaza, and Kite Mite Matsudo in Chiba Prefecture, the commercial complexes asked the company to design the installations with the aim of attracting more customers.

Many parents visit the facilities in the hope their children will be immersed in the latest digital technologies.

Schools also use them for field trips, since children can play there regardless of the weather and do so safely, as such facilities feature equipment for disaster control.

Saori Isshiki, 32, a former kindergarten teacher in charge of operating Little Planet, said: "Indoor playgrounds allow parents and children to be a short distance from each other, which is an advantage. I hope people see them as a new kind of place for kids to play."

Following a series of accidents involving playground equipment, steel cradle swings and rotary towers, as well as wooden equipment, have been removed since 2000, according to an infrastructure ministry official.

The number of sandboxes in urban-area parks declined by 15 percent over six years until 2016, partly because an increasing number of parents worried that they might include animal excrement.

Tanseisha Co., a space design company in the capital's Minato Ward, said the number of commercial facilities that house installations for children has rapidly increased. An increasing number of local governments plan to develop large-scale kids' facilities in response to policies to support child-rearing families.

One such facility is Galaxcity, in the capital's Adachi Ward, which draws about 1.5 million customers annually.

Visitors can use large net and rope playground equipment, and play areas for infants are free for the most part. There are also events at the facility focused on teaching crafts, English and computer programming.

Tami Saito, 38, who was visiting with her child, said, "I can use this place even if it's raining, and I can interact with other mothers."

The structure formerly housed a science museum and other facilities before it was remodeled and opened in 2013 with the aim of nurturing the spirit of challenge among children in the ward.

"This is the starting point for various child-rearing policies," a ward government official said. "We have educational events for children in collaboration with local shopping areas. We can feel the energy of the town here."

Kokoniko in Aichi Prefecture's Toyohashi boasts 680,000 visitors annually and was developed in 2008 with the aim of revitalizing the town.

Learning events for children as well as child-rearing advice are offered at the facility, which was previously the site of a hospital.

"The number of visitors has increased despite a drop in the number of children in the population," said a facility official. "We have many visitors from outside the prefecture, and the facility can also promote our city, which is good for child-rearing families."

Takashi Hatomi, 56, head of Japan child nurturing association in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward, said: “The number of two-income families is increasing and the number of children taking culture lessons is increasing, while time spent between parents and children is on the decline. The inside playground is recently a hot spot. There are many attractive facilities where children can have novel experiences. We recommend using them in addition to outdoor playgrounds."