Bringing your kids to Utsunomiya, Tochigi? One of Utsunomiya’s best public facilities is the free indoor play park downtown, Yuuaihiroba. Kids need to run and play everyday whether it’s a sightseeing day, a shopping day, freezing cold or furnace hot outside. Yuuahihiroba will entertain kids of all ages, and in doing so relieve parents.
At Yuuaihiroba, kids can jump, roll, climb, run, slide, drive, shop and fix lunch, study or read. We have been regulars since my now-three year old was starting to crawl.
Yuuaihiroba is on the main street, on the 6th floor of Omotesando Square which is across the street from PARCO. I take Japanese lessons with volunteer teachers on the 5th floor on Wednesdays, 10 until noon, while my son plays at the Y800/h daycare next to Yuuaihiroba on the 6th floor. Then we play together and have lunch at Yuuaihiroba. All three facilities are run by City Hall. The International Plaza on the 5th floor also has English tourist information, and lots of support for newcomers to Japan.
Next to the play area, some tables and chairs are set up so you can bring a lunch or buy takeaway nearby, and eat there. Find a 7-11 on the first floor; gyoza restaurants, drug stores, supermarkets and Futaarasan Shrine are within a couple minutes' walk. This is the heart of Utsunomiya.
It’s better not to bring bags/coats into the play area. Bring a Y100 coin for the coin lockers (refundable), or else you’ll have to go all the way down to 7-11 on the first floor to get change. Park your stroller if you have one in the designated area next to the shoe shelves, take off your shoes, put them on the shelf, and if you have drinks, place them in a basket on top of the shelf (no food or drink is allowed in the actual play area for obvious reasons). Don't forget to sign in at the registration desk – just write down your name and your child’s name.
Like all Japanese facilities, rules are rules. Besides having to sign in, you must watch your kids – you can’t take off shopping! You’ll want to make sure books and toys and new friends are treated nicely, and books and toys are put back.
Once your child reaches three, they can try rolling inside a big clear wheel or bouncing on a huge, air-filled trampoline. Monitors insure safety and that everybody is the right age and takes their turn.
Crawlers can enter a matted area with soft plush toys surrounded by benches or try a mini-slide. Crawlers and preschoolers can enter an area full of colored balls, and poke them into holes in the wall and watch as they fall through a maze, hit a bell and pop out again. Colorful wooden mobiles dangle and spin overhead.
Another area filled with colored balls is designated alternately for preschoolers or school-aged kids, depending on what the monitor at the time deems fit. It attaches to crawl-through tunnels and nets.
We like the interactive car: climb in, follow the Japanese directions and tour Utsunomiya by using the controls and watching the overhead video monitor.
My son always goes shopping at the kid’s store and fills a basket with wooden food, which he cooks in the play kitchen, and serves it to me at the mini-kitchen tables.
How about going down a bumpy slide, climbing a wall, climbing inside a tree and looking up to see stars, watching yourself on a video screen or checking out Japanese picture books? It’s all there! Join organized activities like craft-making at no extra charge – just sign up if you notice kids carrying the same craft around, or coming in and out of the craft room. Yuuaihiroba is also a great place to practice using basic Japanese if you are a beginner, or to meet and chat with other local parents if you are fluent.
If you have a preschooler, you’ll appreciate the child-size toilets across from the registration desk (no need to put shoes on again). The stall on the end has a regular sized stall and toilet. Next to the kid’s washroom is a little room for babies to nap (guardian needs to stay with child) or mothers’ to nurse or bottle feed. Need to change a diaper? Put your shoes on and find a diaper change table in the spacious washroom for disabled, near the elevators.
From either the West Exit of JR Utsunomiya Station or Tobu Utsunomiya Station, it is less than a five minute bus ride, or a 10-15 minute walk. If you come with a stroller, you need to collapse it to board a bus.
If you come by car, use the parkade attached to the building by overhead walkways. Click on the camera images on the website map for excellent directions on how to find the parkade: http://www.u-omotesando.jp/about/parking.html. It is free for the first 30 minutes. I parked there the other day for 3 hours for Y1,000. It’s a little tricky getting from the parkade elevators to the main building elevators. Check the map at the parkade elevators to find which floors have a door near the elevator leading to a walkway connecting the parkade to the plaza.
I found a very similar indoor play park when we were traveling through Hakodate in Hokkaido. It was a god-send on a day when we were traveling by train for at least 6 hours. Travelers and locals alike with children can really enjoy such a facility!