In July 2000, after 15 years heading the International Section of the Children's Castle, Teri Suzanne left the play and educational center in Aoyama, Tokyo, and became a freelance bilingual specialist. Two years later she was employed as program adviser to the 14 National Children's Centers of Japan's Independent Administrative Institution.

"Most people know little about NCC, or Kokuritsu Shonen Shizen no Ie," she says. "From Hokkaido to Kagoshima, they're one of Japan's greatest hidden assets, the value and potential of which need to be realized by the international community."

Scattered throughout Japan in areas of exceptional natural beauty -- along coastal areas, in mountain regions and near rivers and lakes, the centers offer families, schoolchildren, youth groups, volunteer and teacher-training organizations, educators and even company employees opportunities for discovery, adventure and challenge.