For the last couple weeks, my favorite pastime has been watching tiny, adorable Japanese toddlers run errands, thanks to Netflix licensing Old Enough, a reality show that’s been a hit in Japan since the ’90s.
The premise of show, which debuted in Japan under the title Hajimete no Otsukai, or My First Errand, is simple but engrossing: small children, some as young as 2 years old, run household errands without their parents for the very first time while a camera crew follows along. In each wholly charming (and at 10-15 minutes, very digestible) episode, a child is asked to do something like journey to the local market and back with an elaborate grocery list or run home from the orchard to make fresh juice for the family. These activities can seem Herculean in the tiny hands of the toddlers tasked with completing them, often leading to hilarious predicaments and sweet interactions with strangers that affirm the children’s independence and capability.
That’s not to say that there aren’t challenges—sometimes there are distractions for little ones who are more interested in playing than completing their errands. It can be hard to remember every item needed (even as a grown up, I still find this challenging), to correctly count out money for purchases, or in the case of one tiny but tenacious girl, to complete the job, when the assignment is harvesting a cabbage that’s nearly as big as she is.
Then there’s the trepidation and tears that sometimes precede setting out alone for the first time, from both the kids and their parents, who, more often than not, are even more anxious than their offspring. In this lies the most compelling—and most controversial—aspect of the show: believing that small children can safely do things out in the world and do them well, all by themselves.
After the show dropped on Netflix in late March, discourse in the U.S. ranged from awe and delight to disbelief and concern. Inevitably, discussions around parenting styles, cultural differences, and even infrastructure and policy emerged. Perhaps it should go without saying that it’s highly unlikely that a show like Old Enough would ever be made in the U.S.
That doesn’t mean that the parents in Old Enough are doing anything wrong. For one thing, Japan has an exceptionally low crime rate and one of the strongest gun-control laws in the world. City planning and policies across the country have created environments much more conducive to children walking by themselves than in the U.S.; in an interview with Slate, Hironori Kato, a professor of transportation planning at the University of Tokyo, described solo travel for tots as the norm. “Many kids go to neighborhood schools on foot and by themselves, that’s quite typical,” Kato said. “Roads and street networks are designed for kids to walk in a safe manner.” And culturally, Japan values independence and self-sufficiency; in an interview with the New York Times, Toshiyuki Shimoi, a Tokyo-based child development expert, explained that the practice of sending kids to run errands when they’re young is par for the course, calling it a “typical way of raising children in Japan and symbolic of our cultural approach.”
All of which is to say, on Old Enough, the kids are more than alright, and anxious viewers can relax knowing that the show really is just as wholesome and delightful as it seems. If you had told me a month ago that I would be bingeing a show about completing the mundane tasks I’m tired of doing in my personal life, I would have laughed in your face. But Old Enough is riveting! It’s adorable! Quite frankly, it’s thrilling! And after a spate of stressful, anxiety-inducing shows about troubled teens, soul-sucking family empires, and relentless tests of lovers’ commitment, it’s soothing to find entertainment in the adventures of precious toddlers conquering the world, one errand at a time. It’s also a nice reminder that wonder can be found in even the most basic of activities—if we only take the time to look for it.
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