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Trust robots to keep the kids occupied

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‘Can we go to the park?” In our household, this refrain is heard almost as frequently as “I want ice cream” and “I don’t want to go to bed.”

It is a question asked on a near-daily basis, regardless of weather, season or time of day. Yes, we would go at 10 p.m. in the middle of a winter snowstorm while dressed only in pyjamas, if my 3-year-old daughter and her 1-year-old sister could have their way.

Their perennial desire to escape to a park taps into children’s near-universal love of running around outside among trees and slides — and is perhaps more noticeable among those raised in an urban environment such as Tokyo.

Fortunately for Tokyo-based parents, even among the busiest skyscrapers or shopping districts, there are outdoor play spaces to be found that are ideal for children who need help releasing all that pent-up energy (preferably while fully clothed during daylight hours).

We recently found one new favorite spot hiding unexpectedly in the “Truman Show” perfect shadows of the glitzy shopping center Roppongi Hills — the Roboroborobo Park.

It may appear tiny at first sight — a small space wedged at the top of a gentle hill among the pristine towers and trees of Sakurazaka Residences — but it’s a template of compact urban park design, cleverly created by Choi Jeong Hwa, the South Korean artist and architect.

A colorful robotic totem pole towering 12 meters high greets visitors arriving at ground level, while wide wooden steps lead up to the top of the hill where the main play space can be found. (This is also directly connected via a walkway to Roppongi Hills).

Here, center stage, is robot heaven: A compact row of 10 bright slides in an array of colors and twisting shapes are lined up for children to climb up and tumble down — from a red tube to a green zig-zag shape and a curly-wurly yellow slide.

At the far end of the park — which is spotlessly clean and lined with a soft rubberized flooring — there are also half a dozen brightly colored robot spring-riders, some orange totem-pole-like structures for clambering up and a pair of robots perched on top of a gazebo-style structure.

The icing on the robotic cake, however, is undoubtedly a super-long gently curved yellow slide — connecting upper and lower levels of the park — with a base of rolling metal pins, which children of all ages take turns to slide down.

This is where we found ourselves one recent Saturday afternoon — and testimony to the success of our visit, despite its diminutive size and it perhaps being the coldest day of the year so far, it was exciting enough for the children to enthusiastically throw off their coats and play nonstop for more than two hours. There were even a few tears when we finally dragged them away to defrost in a nearby cafe.

The only downside for parents? Running up and down the side of the yellow slide about 100 times as the girls repeatedly slid down proved more exhausting than a cross-country ski marathon.

After a while, however, I remedied this by regressing several decades and joining my daughters on the slide — and I proceeded to enjoy myself perhaps more than is respectable to admit. Although, I confess, I was a little embarrassed when, just as we were leaving, my husband pointed out a sign stating that the slide was for under-12s only.

Fortunately, when speaking to the park designer after our visit, I got the impression he really wouldn’t mind — or be surprised — at the fact that I enjoyed whizzing down the yellow slide perhaps almost as much as my children.

Describing robots as a child’s “best friend,” Choi explained: “This place is a park in the middle of the city. It’s about the meeting of artificiality and nature and the convergence of daily life and contemporary art.”

He added: “The point was the hill. I wanted it to have a long slide coming down the hill more than 15 meters long. From little toddlers to grown-up children, I think we need a place where children and adults can all play — where children play and parents can play together as they wait.”

Roboroborobo Park — often dubbed simply the Robot Park among parents — is located at 6-16-46 Roppongi, Minato Ward, Tokyo, and it’s free to enjoy.

  • Clayton Forrester

    If you’d like to try another interesting park, copy and paste this phrase

    西六郷公園 タイヤ公園

    into Google Maps.

    I bet all kids everywhere would get a kick out of it.