Running barefoot on the grass, beads of early morning dew sticking to your toes; so cool and fresh beneath your feet. Not a sensation we residents of Tokyo enjoy often. If ever. City officials have now realised that there may be advantages to getting the public closer to nature, and have devised a plan to turf all the city's school playgrounds over the next decade. Up to the 1960s, most of Tokyo's school yards were grass, but then education authorities realised that turf required a good deal of year-round care and began switching to fine gravel. Sure, it shredded legs and elbows when children fell over, but it was cheaper. Crushed limestone was also a popular surface material, because it was effective for drainage, while in recent years more schools have adopted the compacted rubber chips that are used for tennis courts. At present, just 44 of the more than 2,000 primary and middle schools in the city have grass playgrounds. The metropolitan government has now unveiled plans to lay grass at 70 schools in the next financial year, covering a total area of 280 hectares. The cost has been estimated at 2 billion yen (HK$132.7 million), which will be covered by the city and local governments. Care and maintenance of the new fields will also be the responsibility of the district governments, according to officials. But when they have laid the last of the turf, in 10 years' time, the area covered will be twice the dimensions of the Imperial Palace grounds. Naturally enough, Tokyo is not acting completely out of altruistic motives. As well as 'improving the outdoor environment for children', the project is also designed to help combat the heat-island effect in the capital. With temperatures rising every year due to the profusion of steel, glass and concrete - as more and more of the Kanto plain is developed - Tokyo is looking for ways to cool down. Scientists estimate that the average temperature in the city has increased by 3 degrees Celsius in the past century, a rate that is five times that of the average global rise. Asphalted playgrounds do not help, because their surface temperature on a hot summer's day can reach 50 degrees. Grass, on the other hand, remains at around 30 degrees. Schools will be asked to co-operate more closely with their local communities and share their grassy grounds for festivals and other events. City officials say they also believe that the grass will attract dragonflies, grasshoppers and other insects that will be useful in teaching children about the way the environment and nature should be, and once was. As a father, I just hope it encourages the youngsters to put away their computer games more often and enjoy the feeling of the grass tickling their toes.