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More than 70% of kids in urban, rural Japan not playing outside: surveys

The front gate to Chiba University is seen in this file photo taken in Chiba's Inage Ward. (Mainichi/Motohiro Negishi)

FUNABASHI, Chiba -- Over 70% of 2,986 elementary school students who responded to recent questionnaires in rural and urban Japan said they do not play outside on weekdays and over 10% do not even have friends to play with.

"Children won't play (outside) if they are left alone in this situation. We need social intervention to encourage kids to play outside," said Chiba University professor Isami Kinoshita, who is well acquainted with urban planning.

The questionnaires were conducted by Kinoshita's lab at the university. A paper-based survey was initially conducted on all primary school students in the city of Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, in northeastern Japan, in fiscal 2017, and 1,847 responses were received.

According to the survey, 76% of children said they do not play outside during weekdays. Some 18% answered they do not have any friends to play with after school, while 29% had only one or two friends to play with.

By play areas, which allowed multiple answers, 85% said they play at home, followed by 8% who play near rivers, waterways or ponds and 6% who play in mountains or forests. The results show not many children were spending time in nature.

In a bid to understand the situation in urban areas, the same questionnaire was carried out in one elementary school in the city of Chiba, east of Tokyo, in fiscal 2018, and 425 responses were received.

Students in Chiba had the same tendency as those in Kesennuma, with 77% saying they do not play outside during weekdays, and 13% not having any friends to play with after school. Some 76% answered that they play at home.

Primary school children in three municipalities in the northeastern Japan prefecture of Fukushima and Gunma Prefecture, northwest of Tokyo, were also surveyed and the results showed the same tendency -- except that the proportion of students who had no friends to play with rose to 20-30%.

"Kids aren't playing outside even in rural areas, where they are surrounded by nature. Due to reasons including the declining birth rate, it's not easy for children to play with friends and they are losing their reasons to play outside," surmised lab member Mitsunari Terada, who played a central role in the research.

Kinoshita pointed out, "Playing outside, such as the game of tag or playing with mud, is a way for kids to come into contact with society and is necessary for a child to develop skills to make decisions and to think on their own."

The outcome of the study is scheduled to be announced at the June 1 symposium "Donaru Sotoasobi no Mirai!? (What is the future of playing outside!?)," to be held in an auditorium of the Science Council of Japan, in Tokyo's Minato Ward.

(Japanese original by Tamiko Kobayashi, Funabashi Bureau)

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