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.