Physical Settings and Materials Recommended for Play Therapy with Japanese Children

By Ji, Yuanhong; Ramirez, Sylvia Z. et al. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, March 2008 | Go to article overview

Physical Settings and Materials Recommended for Play Therapy with Japanese Children


Ji, Yuanhong, Ramirez, Sylvia Z., Kranz, Peter L., Journal of Instructional Psychology


This article describes a number of important issues to consider in play therapy with Japanese children. They include the waiting room and playroom decor, toys, and other materials, as well as terminology that are commonly used in Japan. The layout of the small and large playrooms, use of the Wa-Shitsu (a traditional Japanese room style), reading and video materials, and description of dual sand play boxes are among the cultural-specific elements that will be emphasized. Consideration of these variables is expected to enhance therapeutic outcomes in play therapy with Japanese children.

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There is a lack of literature on multicultural issues in play therapy, particularly involving Japanese children. Ethical and effective practice requires the consideration of cultural variables in play therapy, including the setting and materials used with ethnically diverse children (Chang, Ritter, & Hays, 2005; Coleman, Parmer, & Barker, 1993; Kranz, Ramirez, Flores-Torres, Steele, & Lund, 2005). Although many aspects of the therapeutic environment are believed to be universal (Kao, 2005), culturally responsive considerations in this area are often overlooked (Hinman, 2003). Several authors have described recommendations for toys, materials, and the physical environment of play therapy. However, the suggestions tend to be (a) general in scope (across all ethnic groups); (b) focused on broad categories of ethnic groups, such as, Asians and Hispanics; or (c) briefly mentioned for specific cultural groups (e.g., Bowers, 1996; Chang et al., 2005; Hopkins, Huici, & Bermudez, 2005; Kao & Landreth, 2001; Koss-Chioino & Vargas, 1992; Martinez & Valdez, 1992).

Detailed discussions regarding the physical environment, toys, and other materials that are appropriate for specific ethnic groups are needed (Kranz et al., 2005). Based on a review of the literature and the first author's 10 years of experience in Japan as a play therapist, the following will be addressed: waiting room and playroom decor, toys, and other materials recommended for use with Japanese children. Japanese terminology will be used, when appropriate. While the emphasis is on Japanese culture-specific recommendations, it is noted that some aspects of the play therapy environment that are mentioned (e.g., materials by Disney Productions) are more universal and applicable across cultures (Sue & Sue, 2003).

The Waiting Room

In Japanese culture, therapy is a particularly private experience. Many clients who come for therapy keep their decision a secret, even from members of their families. Similarly, school-aged children tend to prefer that others are unaware that they are in counseling. Thus, it is recommended that the entrance to the play therapy room not be close to the building's main entrance to ensure privacy. The reason for this special arrangement is related to the Japanese concepts of inside/outside (uchi/soto). Uchi/soto refer to distinctions in social distance between people that affect how they interact socially with one another. In other words, something belonging to uchi (inside the social circle) should not be exposed to soto (outside the social circle) (Nakane, 1972). Otherwise, shame (haft) may result (Doi, 1985).

Due, in part, to these issues of privacy and shame, the waiting room should be a place that is both physically and aesthetically pleasing so that the parents and children can feel comfortable and relaxed. (See Figures 1 and 2 that represent a typical play therapy waiting room, and Figure 3 that is typical of both the waiting room and playroom.) The wall paintings or prints should be of tranquil settings. Child-sized chairs and tables are recommended for children to use when drawing. The color of the walls should be soft shades, such as, beige and light gray. Carpet is preferable to tile and hardwood floors, and dark solid colors (e.g., brown or wine red) are commonly used.

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