FFor the last few weeks my favorite pastime was watching cute, little Japanese toddlers running errands. The Old is Enough, a reality show that’s been a hit in Japan since the ’90s.
It was the title of the first Japanese TV series. Hajimete no OtsukaiYou can also call it: My First ErrandThis is a simple, but captivating, story about how small children run their household without their parents. The camera crew tracks them along. Every episode of this charming, and at only 15-20 minutes per episode, is a children’s task. They are asked to run to the nearby market to get a detailed grocery list, or to go home to make juice for their 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.
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The show was released on Netflix late March. American discourse ranged from amazement and delight to doubt and concern. There were unavoidable discussions about parenting styles and cultural differences as well as infrastructure and policy. Perhaps it should go without saying that it’s highly unlikely that a show like The Old is Enough Probably would never be done in the U.S.
That doesn’t mean that the parents in The Old is EnoughThey aren’t doing anything illegal. Japan boasts a very low crime rate, and has one of the strictest gun-control laws worldwide. In Japan, policies in urban planning are more favorable to kids walking on their own than they would be in America. SlateHironorikato, an associate professor of transport planning at the University of Tokyo described solo travel for toddlers 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.”
This is all to say about on The Old is EnoughThe kids do well, so anxious viewers should feel at ease knowing the children are just fine. 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 The Old is Enough It’s 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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