by Teresa Cowan
Place a black box in the midst of a group of young children and ask, “What’s inside?” You’ll be surprised at the myriad of answers: “Tyrannosaurus Rex in a red snowsuit,” “Ninja Turtles,” “Fairies with Monarch wings.”
Open the box. Inside are water, sand, paints, carpentry tools, places to climb and sun shining all around. Then include a contingent of caring professionals to guide these young minds. What have you got? The National Children’s Castle.
In operation since November of 1985, its mandate is to provide families with a comprehensive facility and forum for creative thinking, mental and physical health and fun! With this in mind, the Castle offers a hotel for out-of-town guests, cafeterias, a Well Child Clinic and child care facilities. In addition to these features are floors upon floors of stimulating games and activities.
Since the Castle is a mammoth structure, just entering its door is overwhelming. However, in the Atrium is an information counter with an English-speaking staff. Take the entrance on the left, and there one can obtain a detailed description of the general programs and information on other classes and clubs.
Activities in the Castle are tailored or infants right up to and including high school students. The types of activities available allow children to play independently or as a group, to exercise their creative minds or even their bodies.
For instance, the third floor Play House is equipped with aerial nets, a maze and a game area for older children. The infant area comes with tatami mats and loads of cuddly toys. If your kids wish to romp outdoors, head for the Rooftop Garden. There’s ample space, climbing apparatus, net and ball games and various play vehicles.
A particularly popular source of amusement is the Play Port, a structure comprised of open and crawl spaces covered with more than 45,000 plastic balls. If your kids still aren’t tuckered out, they can go for a swim in the 25-meter swimming pool located on the second floor basement. Don’t worry if you didn’t bring trunks. You can rent towels, suits, caps and even maternity bathing suits. Also don’t overlook the multi-purpose gymnasium and the health and fitness center complete with fitness testing personnel and equipment.
If your youngsters are fascinated by computer games and graphics, there’s plenty to do in the Computer Play Room. Here the system allows kids to cooperate with one another. They can either participate in the yacht and balloon race or combine their efforts to rescue a princess in the Endless World adventure game. To complement this program computer buffs can take programming lessons on the 10th floor Personal Computer Room.
The Fine Arts Division offers independent work stations on the third floor. Our favorite is the two-meter high, 17-meter long drawing board. Also available are group activities under the guidance of instructors.
The music area on the 4th floor has two studios. Studio A is designed for musical activities while Studio B facilitates video production and recording. The Music Room has 1,200 instruments from around the world. A must for the music buff in all of us!
Parents and their children can also enjoy the Audio-Visual Center on the 4th floor. Kids can even produce their own simple animation videos.
If you still want more, the Castle has two theaters, the 1,200-person capacity Aoyama Theater and the Aoyama Round Theater. The latter’s structural components allow for maximum audience participation.
Apart from the ongoing general admission activities, adults and children can join a multitude of clubs and classes. For instance, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to noon, expectant moms can attend a maternity swim program. Also, moms and tots (birth to 2 years) can enjoy the Akachan Salon which provides songs and games plus an introduction to all the new baby products on the market. Most classes are in Japanese with some bilingual. However, if there is enough demand, the Castle can accommodate more English content, but if non-Japanese speakers do not voice their requests and show commitment, one cannot expect any changes in this area.
The National Children’s Castle is located at: 5-31-1 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku. The hours of operation are: Weekdays from 12:30-5:30 p.m. Weekends and national holidays from 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Closed on Mondays. The General Admission Fees are: over 18 yrs, ¥400; under 18 yrs, ¥300 (free for kids under 3 years). For more information on clubs, programs and membership fees call: 3797-5665.
National Children’s Castle