Via The Guardian
My eldest son, aged seven, is examining a crime scene with his new colleagues. A stolen wallet has been found, and they must trace the owner. The mood is solemn, intense.
Meanwhile, across the street, my youngest, aged four, is busy making pizza. He is bursting with can-do pride, but trying to look as though he does this kind of thing every day.
We are in KidZania Tokyo, one of 16 branches of the fast-expanding global theme park chain: a two-thirds-scale indoor town, with fake sky, fake streets and fake buildings housing 70 shops, restaurants and businesses – from pizza parlours to police stations; there’s even the fuselage of a Boeing 737 for budding cabin crew – all staffed by the thousands of children aged four to 15 who visit each day.
The idea behind KidZania is that children will experience the world of work via role play with adult “zupervisors” – parents are excluded from the town – teaching lessons about responsibility, decision-making and teamwork. Since the first one opened in Santa Fe, near Mexico City, in 1999, more than 35 million children have visited branches of KidZania in cities from Mumbai to Seoul. Early next year, the first branch in the UK is due to open in west London, at Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush, and the company predicts a million people a year will visit.
On entering KidZania, children are given radio-frequency tags – so they can’t leave without an alarm going off – and handed 50 kidzos – KidZania’s currency. These they can deposit in the KidZania bank, which is staffed by children of course and offers 10% interest – to retrieve later using bank cards at pretend ATMs. Or they can spend it on souvenirs and junk food. They can then earn more by working – between five and eight kidzos for a 25-minute shift, depending on the job.
The Japanese branch is rather earnest. I am not getting strong “play” vibes from many of the children. “There is no baby-talk here,” a spokesman tells me. “And in KidZania you will notice it is always dusk, because dusk is when kids have to go home, so it adds an exciting air.”
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Also, check out KidZania’s website.