My eyes inadvertently met those of a teenage girl who suddenly appeared out of a white opening in the darkness. We were separated about three meters by a river of white mist. Blushing, the girl scampered away. A moment later, bewildered, I turned in the opposite direction. Before I hew it, my whole body was immersed in the white flow. Perhaps this pleasant moment was only a momentary delusion, created by the innocence of the mist. But it felt not only strange but even eerie. People can also experience a different world by momentarily dozing off and dreaming. Such is the uncertainty of our senses of reality and Present.
A mist can be regarded as a variation of water which can obscure all that is dirty or ugly. Water by nature is unrestrained, sometimes flowing powerfully in large volume, at other times lying still ill quiet pools.
True to its essential nature as water, the white floating matter adroitly read the topography and flowed over it as if intent on filling the crevices. Scenes that were out of synch imperceptibly began to connect, creating a profound space worthy of the name “forest” which engulfed all and everything.
This facility, dubbed Children's Forest, is located in a vast park in a Tokyo suburb, built to commemorate the Showa era. It aims to educate children not through letters and numbers but through actual experience. It provides, in a way even a child can understand, shapes, phenomena and symbols which stimulate the five senses, enabling youngsters to feel the pleasure which can only be felt when instincts, desires and embryonic knowledge resonate simultaneously. In one comer of the forest is an open space where the mist is created. Through the natural phenomenon of mist, artificially generated, the forest constitutes a scene seldom experienced in daily life but easily understood by both adults and children as a kind of environmental art. A stereotypical heaven or the cloudscape of Sun Wukong (the super-monkey who plays a key role in Journey to the West, a classical Chinese novel) is the image children usually conjure tip when they see mist at arm’s length. But when they actually find themselves immersed in a mist, they feel a pleasantness more like being inside a mother’s womb. The forest also makes one feel drowsy, like a pupa in a cocoon. Obviously, this is an extremely “natural” experience.
Children's parks in Japan usually have “three treasures”-sandbox, slide and swing-which children are more or less forced to build their play around. By contrast, the element of play found in the forest of mist is thoroughly subjective, something which enables children to feel, take part in, discover and create of their own volition.
I knew it was childish, but I was 'carried away by a mischievous impulse: To bring along with me next time some tool that would enable me to instantly obliterate the shapes appearing unsolicited before my eyes in the mist. Is this “forest,” like so many amusement parks in Japan, also destined to be taken over by young people who wish only to remain children forever?
Text by Hiroshi Innami 1994/2