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'Old Enough:' Netflix show sparks global debate on parenting and child safety

45 Comments
By SoraNews24

When you visit Japan, a lot of things will catch your eye as being different to your home country, including the way they bring up children.

It’s not unusual to see young elementary school children walking to school or even taking public transport on their own or in small groups without any adult supervision here, and that’s all because adults foster independence and a sense of responsibility in children from a very young age.

Children begin to clean their own schools and take turns serving classmates lunch, carrying heavy pots and utensils to their classrooms, from the first year of elementary school, when they’re about six years old. That’s when they begin to navigate their own way to and from school as well, carrying heavy bags and making their way through busy stations and intersections without their parents.

So in order for parents to prepare their children for the adult-like responsibilities they’ll face when they start school, many give their little ones responsibilities before they turn six. These responsibilities can range from basic household chores, carrying their own bag on family outings, and sometimes, even fetching small items from the local shop.

These might seem like difficult tasks for a child to handle, but their ability to complete tasks on their own can surprise both the adults around them and, more importantly, themselves, giving them a sense of confidence as they venture out into the world.

It’s also incredibly heartwarming to watch, which is why a TV program called "Hajimete no Otsukai" (“First Errand”) has been hugely popular in Japan for the past 30 years. The program shows toddlers going out on their own to complete an errand outside the home without their parents, and now it’s become a hit show on Netflix, where it’s been released under the title, “Old Enough“.

▼ Hiroki, for instance, is only two and three-quarters, but he walks one kilometer on his own to do the shopping.

Screen-Shot-2022-04-16-at-10.30.52.png

In Japan, the show airs twice a year as a three-hour program, but for Netflix it’s been cut up into 20 episodes, each around 10 minutes long, except for the final episode which runs for 21 minutes. Since it began streaming with subtitles on Netflix on March 31, the show has been winning fans from across the globe, who’ve been leaving comments like:

“Please, need more episodes!!!”

“Just finished watching them and 20 isn’t enough.”

“GENUINELY CRIED EVERY SINGLE EPISODE.”

“Will gladly watch 20 seasons of this!”

“I just started watching it yesterday and it’s soo good!”

“I NEED MORE EPISODES NOW.”

While the majority of responses have been filled with heartfelt praise for the show and its little stars, the program also sparked overseas debate about the safety of children and the differences between Japan and Western countries like the U.S.

“Ummm. How is abandoning a tiny child to cross a busy road wholesome?”

“Because Japanese people trust Japanese drivers to be cautious. Unfortunately in other places (like the U.S.) we can’t trust each other to this extent.”

“Japan is SO different from America though. I wouldn’t trust to do this in America.”

“Maybe the U.S. should consider designing places so that we don’t have to treat children up to the age of 16 like literal toddlers.”

“Plus the long term negative effects of the child. It’s all ‘fun’ and ‘interesting’ for us to watch but a child at that age shouldn’t be ‘made’ to do this.”

“Absolutely incredible that people in these comments cannot even begin to imagine what a safe, high trust society looks like. Conditioned to believe violent crime and constant danger is normal: it isn't.”

Though some overseas viewers expressed concern about the safety of the young participants on the show, every precaution was taken to ensure their safety during filming. Months of preparation go into each child’s solo journey, with routes inspected by staff and parents to make sure it’s safe in regards to road traffic and no fushinsha (suspicious person) reports have been made in the area.

Residents are notified in advance so they don’t go out of their way to help the child as they normally would, and film crews and production staff disguise themselves as in-store shoppers and normal passersby along the route during filming. In the case of filming in agricultural areas and fishing villages, staff will also disguise themselves as farmers and fishermen so they can blend into the landscape and go undetected by the child as they complete their errand. Other staff sit in cars or on bicycles so they can quickly step in if needed.

For those who questioned the ethics of having a child go out on an errand at such a young age, Japanese commenters abroad gave this insight into the mindset behind this style of parenting.

“It’s part of our culture to give kids a sense of responsibility and teach them kindness of the people in the community who would help them. I have done it, all kids in Japan know that that’s the part of cool recognition to be able to contribute to the family! It’s a big deal for them and they take pride!”

“Japan is much safer and the toddlers have been supervised by the camera crew the whole time. Cities are built for safety.”

The role that urban planning plays in contributing to a safe community in Japan also became a hot topic amongst local netizens in their reactions to overseas comments on the safety aspect of the show.

“The show reveals as much about children as it does urban planning. In some suburbs of the U.S. it would be impossible to walk to a nearby store.”

“Small and medium-sized stores that children can access is a big surprise for people in the U.S., where you drive to a supermarket and buy in bulk.”

“Foreign viewers are amazed at how safe it generally is for children in Japan, but good urban and community structures play a big part in this safety.”

“It seems that everyone in the world is confused by the ‘madness’ and ‘mystery’ of Japan, where you can let toddlers go out into the world alone.”

“Foreign viewers are so filled with fear for the child that it makes me think Japan is the only safe country in the world. I want to continue to protect this way of life!”

“It’s one of the peculiarities of Japanese society where children can act alone.”

"Old Enough" really has opened the floodgates to a discussion on the ins and outs of different ways of living and parenting. Though it might differ to parenting styles in other parts of the world, entrusting children to look after themselves and those around them is a natural part of child-rearing in Japan, and urban and community structures help to support this culture.

It’s all food for thought, generated by the show’s new global reach. One thing everyone can agree on, though, is that children venturing out on their own for their first errand is an experience that can pull on the heartstrings of anyone and everyone, no matter where they’re from.

It’s a reminder of the importance of community in helping to keep kids safe, and if you’re wondering how a show like this might work in a community abroad, you might want to strap on your seatbelt, because it’s just been announced that a UK remake of the show is now in the works.

Source: Twitter@netflix via Jin

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- Short documentary explores the significance of Japanese children being independent from a young age 【Video】

-- Should you put your kid on a leash? Japanese mothers weigh in

-- How Japanese universities are trying to help worried parents by babying their students

© SoraNews24

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

45 Comments
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In principle a good practice and shows how safe Japan is compared to other countries. But the actual impact is negligible. You have many Parasite Singles. Even when they can afford to live on their own, many Japanese youth prefer to live at home and sponge off their parents. Does this really produce more independent adults?

0 ( +15 / -15 )

global debate

Twits on twitter.

15 ( +22 / -7 )

The article itself states that months of preparation were put into finding the safest routes, making sure no creeps were around, and having police and crew stationed everywhere to watch the kid, so the "safety" of this is fake. This is not the amount of protection a normal child would receive if asked to complete this journey by anyone else.

I've lived here for 5 years, and I was almost assaulted by a man who tried to follow me into the bicycle parking. My friend was almost kidnapped, and she got touched on the trains everyday growing up. I definitely would not let my little child go out there alone; this show sets up false expectations by filling the area with police and actors.

It's very cute, and I know some people do let their kids do this, but it's not safe, and it takes only one time for your child to be gone forever. Also, drivers in Japan are not considerate at all; I've seen them literally ignore a pregnant woman waiting at a crossing in the rain, and an elderly couple with a wheelchair. Be careful, the drivers will speed through if they think they can.

0 ( +24 / -24 )

There should be a short text at the start of each episode explaining that the route is made safe and before the kid goes on the errand. I too thought it was a reckless show until I read how they prepare. Now I know it's just a cute entertaining show. With that in mind, kids go to school alone and run errands in many countries, so Japan is not special at all. Maybe special compared with down town L.A.

As for independent adults? LOL. Golden week (coming soon!) was created by the government to insure that the typical salary man gets at least a few days off because being forced to work over paid holidays is so common. Yes boss, I am very independent.

4 ( +18 / -14 )

Yeah I call Bull. If Japanese are so independent then why has every Japanese girl I’ve dated genuinely been amazed that I can cook and do my own laundry and clean? Japanese women are independent. Men… not so much.

-3 ( +15 / -18 )

Love tis one “Because Japanese people trust Japanese drivers to be cautious. Unfortunately in other places (like the U.S.) we can’t trust each other to this extent.” yeah sure, this person has probably never crossed a road in Japan...

-4 ( +13 / -17 )

The two little girls would be kidnapped quickly if they were walking alone in some countries. I've heard kidnapping is a big business for kidnappers. Japan is very safe, that's why they can do.

4 ( +14 / -10 )

I've always enjoyed the show (when and if I could get myself to watch Japanese TV) but always thought it's just TV. Like those jokes on "unsuspected" comedians that know they're being filmed, it's all very entertaining but also fake.

...because adults foster independence and a sense of responsibility in children from a very young age.

The irony, tho.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

My wife has always loved this show, years before it came to Netflix. I've always hated it.

I don't especially like children. But, to see the stress and emotional trauma they are often subjected to for mere entertainment, I find disturbing. These little creatures become genuinely upset when they can't complete their stupid missions, or get lost, or experience some other mishap. Why would people enjoy seeing that emotional suffering?

And, it didn't even occur to me the false sense of safety and security it gives of Japan, like propaganda, until pointed out by commenters here. That's just one more reason to hate this show.

-10 ( +8 / -18 )

Japan is safe because it's largely ethnically homogeneous and everyone shares the same values, which helps enforce them

We find a statistically significant negative relationship between ethnic diversity and social trust across all studies. The relationship is stronger for trust in neighbors and when ethnic diversity is measured more locally.

https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-polisci-052918-020708

Some people might not like that, but it's true

-13 ( +4 / -17 )

I'd like to believe that programs such as this would have consulted child psychologists during all phases of series development, script construction, and filming. Site safety, of course, is paramount; but so should the health and welfare of these children in the long term.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

...because adults foster independence and a sense of responsibility in children from a very young age.

It seems to me most people learn good disciplines in young age, of course some are bad. Japan's (kidnapping) crime rate is much lower, so most parents let their children go to school alone.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

The article itself states that months of preparation were put into finding the safest routes, making sure no creeps were around, and having police and crew stationed everywhere to watch the kid, so the "safety" of this is fake. This is not the amount of protection a normal child would receive if asked to complete this journey by anyone else.

I've lived here for 5 years, and I was almost assaulted by a man who tried to follow me into the bicycle parking. My friend was almost kidnapped, and she got touched on the trains everyday growing up. I definitely would not let my little child go out there alone; this show sets up false expectations by filling the area with police and actors.

It's very cute, and I know some people do let their kids do this, but it's not safe, and it takes only one time for your child to be gone forever. Also, drivers in Japan are not considerate at all; I've seen them literally ignore a pregnant woman waiting at a crossing in the rain, and an elderly couple with a wheelchair. Be careful, the drivers will speed through if they think they can.

agree wholehearted with this. My son can walk to elementary school only because they walk in groups. No way would I let him walk alone. this MYTH that this kind of thing does not happen in Japan is a very dangerous mindset and its not true.

The children may appear to be cleaning at school but in reality they never do a good job. In fact even when I worked in a company and they did a friday morning tidy around the outside of the building the adults also did not actually do anything more than pretend to clean.

Exactly the same in my workplace.

-4 ( +10 / -14 )

This is a "cute" show for all those who have never lost a child through kidnapping, rape, and then murder, like the 9-year-old Vietnamese girl, Yuki Yoshida (not raped in her case), or the hundreds of others that come up on any quick search. You always hear of parents and schools and police asking neighbors, community leaders, parents, and schools if they were watching, saw anything, why she wasn't with friends, etc. How about they show THAT in one of the episodes? Maybe not "kawaii" enough? Yes, if every single child left to "do it alone" were followed by a news crew and/or parents the whole time, fine, although then you'd read about kids being hit by cars by drivers who never saw them still, but for all the others, it is an unnecessary gamble. And remember, it's still against the law to leave them at home while you step out -- the very same kids.

-2 ( +10 / -12 )

And remember, it's still against the law to leave them at home while you step out

It should be against the law, unfortunately it is not against the law in Japan. It is very much like leaving child alone in car at parking lot and parents go shopping for a while. This is also not against the law in Japan. There is no law about it yet.

-3 ( +7 / -10 )

Ok, they plan a safe route and even though parents are not there, there is an entire film crew.

Fake "reality" TV.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

Paranoia sadly is the rule of parenting in many western countries, and it is creeping into Japan too. Statistically, now is the safest time in history to be a child, at least in a G7 country. Kidnappings are almost non existent, especially kidnappings by strangers. Cars are safer, there are fewer assaults, helmet use on bicycles is growing. Yet some parents exist in a bubble of fear driven by media sensationalism and social media hype.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

The children may appear to be cleaning at school but in reality they never do a good job.

Way back when I used to wonder why the schools were so dirty, but then a teacher told me it's because the students do the cleaning. Then it all made sense.

0 ( +9 / -9 )

Fake "reality" TV.

The first and only real reality TV show ever was Cops. The rest are scripted junk.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Joe; also in many schools the students arent allowed to use actual soap or cleaning products like window spray etc. They are "dangerous" for the kids to use. So they just swipe around with wet filthy rags.

-2 ( +8 / -10 )

Don't forget it's a reality show, not reality. Everything is arranged sufficiently for safety, or otherwise the broadcaster could be sued.

13 ( +14 / -1 )

So... How many people clicked on the play button ten times before realizing it was just a screenshot? Or was it just me?

2 ( +4 / -2 )

As a parent raising small children in Japan I'm a bit torn between what people do here and what they do in my country (Canada).

Back in Canada I think the whole society is just way too uptight about giving not kids independence. I've read stories about parents being accused of parental negligence for something as simple as letting an 11 or 12 year old ride a bus unaccompanied. Its taken to ridiculous levels.

On the other hand, sometimes I do feel that the culture here goes too far the other way. I often see young chlidren 5 or 6 years old walking down busy streets that don't have sidewalks with cars zooming buy just inches away from them and no parents in sight and I just can't accept stuff like that as being in any way safe because it clearly isn't. And the news on sites like this often carries stories about little kids being hit by cars.

So as a parent I do let my kids have way more independence than they would be allowed in Canada on the one hand, but I also am way more protective of them than the average Japanese parent probably is, especially when it comes to traffic safety, on the other.

10 ( +12 / -2 )

What a load a Japanese propaganda, that’s ridiculous. Japan’s society doesn’t teach any independence to people that’s quit the opposite. It’s an awfully infantilizing society when adults are constantly told what to do and how to behave. Nobody here really knows what to do by himself/herself without being instructed to. I spent years on academia and it’s was puzzling how the students supposedly adults can’t do anything. Rooms were dirty as hell and people just were always clueless.

And regarding security, there is right now in my neighborhood a dude who sexually chase children going to school. It has been going on for months and the police has miserably failed to catch him. So don’t tell me about the Japan safe BS. And beyond that, drivers here are total disrespectful idiots (in Hokkaido they’re at their own class), who never stop at stop signs and speed up on small roads so there is no way I will leave my son going alone with such dangerous people around. Japanese people are just living in their distorted world and refuse to accept the reality that Japanese roads are very dangerous for children.

-6 ( +13 / -19 )

So many people exposing their own insecurities, feeling attacked and inferior just because Japanese society can let children act in this way without being automatically in danger.

There will be always someone making outrageous claims about Japan being insecure and dangerous because in their 20 years here they heard once about some crime.

5 ( +13 / -8 )

There will be always someone making outrageous claims about Japan being insecure and dangerous because in their 20 years here they heard once about some crime.

Once in 20 years? You should check the crime section on JT & other sites more often then, might be a good wake up call. Japan may be generally safer than many other countries but its not as safe as it it being portrayed by a cute Netflix show.

2 ( +11 / -9 )

Sounds interesting. I used to walk home from school back when I lived in the Florida suburbs. It was just a few blocks, and I never had a problem. When I moved to Miami, I always had to look out for traffic, homeless people, and anyone else who was fishy.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Lol! What my kids learn at school like cleaning, washing up and serving others ends the very second they leave the school grounds. Same goes for listening and following commands at home. My wife volumes setting is permanently on the “max” setting and even then they have learned to block it out. They are like angels at school but at home, forget it!

0 ( +5 / -5 )

Duke, sounds like your wife has been striken with OVS- Obasan Voice Syndrome. The mistaken belief that volume will gain compliance. In reality the opposite is true. Eye contact, concentration and soft words work much better.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Paranoia sadly is the rule of parenting in many western countries, and it is creeping into Japan too. Statistically, now is the safest time in history to be a child, at least in a G7 country.

I guess we could argue that the increased paranoia is why now is the safest time in history.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

My wife volumes setting is permanently on the “max” setting and even then they have learned to block it out.

Same here.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Albaleo we could, and we would be wrong. The growing surveillance state, technological advances, cell phones, etc all are the factors contributing to the great safety we enjoy today.

Unfortunately they also contribute to the paranoia. 25 years ago pre internet, we would never hear the story of the little girl kidnapped in Boston if we lived in Los Angeles. It wouldnt become an internet meme or anything. So we wouldn't worry about it. But these days the 24 hour news cycle demands information to fill the time, so we hear a constant litany of heart breaking tales.

Reality is that in Canada for example, a child has a greater chance of being struck by lightning than being kidnapped by a stranger.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Warning: Only possible in the pure Yamato culture. Don't attempt this in your progressive diversity society

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

Quote

that’s all because adults foster independence and a sense of responsibility in children from a very young age.

What a load of codswallop .

So why is it then most adult Japanese men are totally incapable of looking after themselves??? Is this divine teaching only passed down to girls?

-1 ( +5 / -6 )

What a load a Japanese propaganda, that’s ridiculous. Japan’s society doesn’t teach any independence to people that’s quit the opposite. It’s an awfully infantilizing society when adults are constantly told what to do and how to behave. Nobody here really knows what to do by himself/herself without being instructed to. I spent years on academia and it’s was puzzling how the students supposedly adults can’t do anything. Rooms were dirty as hell and people just were always clueless.

And regarding security, there is right now in my neighborhood a dude who sexually chase children going to school. It has been going on for months and the police has miserably failed to catch him. So don’t tell me about the Japan safe BS. And beyond that, drivers here are total disrespectful idiots (in Hokkaido they’re at their own class), who never stop at stop signs and speed up on small roads so there is no way I will leave my son going alone with such dangerous people around. Japanese people are just living in their distorted world and refuse to accept the reality that Japanese roads are very dangerous for children.

Calm down dude. It's just a TV show

4 ( +8 / -4 )

I only watched a few episodes before I gave up because it gave me terrible heart palpitations. There is no way in heaven or hell that a child that young would be allowed to wander around parentless where I come from. They'd be prime targets for abductions or worse.

I think while it's an interesting social experiment, in general, no matter where you live there should an age limit on when kids can go out by themselves. Personally, any kid under 10 is just too young. I remember being on a train in Tokyo during rush hour and this wee slip of a girl boarded the train. She couldn't have been more than 7 and was getting jostled and pushed every which way in the packed train. I ended up standing near her to body block other commuters because nobody seemed to give a damn that she might get trampled. It was awful.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

So many people complaining about Japanese men not being independent, as if it's not the same in other countries. I personally have acquaintances in the US whose college-aged children still live with them. One friend in South Korea has a son who is unemployed and spends all day playing LoL and Starcraft, hoping to get a career in e-sports.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

This is "cute" in a sort of way that people observe captured monkeys at the zoo. I challenge this false narrative that Japan is safe. It's generally safer than e.g. America due to their society being mostly homogenous (but that's changing), but it's not safe.

Before looking at statistics about alleged "safety" of a country, you should assess the source and how data is being collected. It's well known that rape, sexual assault, child molestation and all things childhood trauma are severely underreported in Japan and are surrounded by toxic shame, bullying, the unwritten rule that you must not stick out or you'll get hammered down, rigid patriarchal structures where women and children are just easy targets and will be abused and be made to shut up just in case. So when people don't report crime, statistics show low crime rate. Also, Japan is known for hiding and withholding data for reasons of national pride or get a point across...

Even if you call the above BS, how is it that Japan is full of pedos, perverts and child and loli material is widely circulated within and outside the country? If it wasn't, entire industries like the joshi kosei, underage maid cafes, manga featuring underage character, blow up dolls and tons of other stuff would not exist.

My heart freezes every time I see tiny people alone on a train, or the street. They can be seized in a second, never to be seen again and I'm sure many are. Traumatising children leads to mentally ill societies and if you're a keen observer of Japanese news, it doesn't look like there's much mental health prevention or awareness in the country, hence the extreme nature of crimes prevailing in Japan (family members slaughtering each other daily, the often psychotic nature of crimes, often documented in movies, anime and porn etc), extremely high suicide rate and the general dysfunctional image many Japanese adults sadly present with. It's really sad.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

If China had created a reality show same as this then the western media and activist would have been all over it bashing it for child exploitation and danger to children’s welfare! But since it’s Japan the West ( mostly Americans ) are wowed by how wonderful this is!

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I realize it is just an excerpt for the sake of the article, but those comments praising the show seem...inane at best. The critical ones seem a lot better, and actually composed in the form of a sentence.

@MikeH

Yeah it is a pretty pervasive double-standard. I bet if you showed this show to two groups of people, told one it was China and the other it was Japan, you would get radically different attitudes in the responses. Heck you could probably do the same with North/South Korea and the same results.

Those are some of the benefits at ceding your autonomy entirely.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Yeah it is a pretty pervasive double-standard. I bet if you showed this show to two groups of people, told one it was China and the other it was Japan

How did this Japan / China comparison ever get rolling? Seems kinda ridiculous. Besides, it’d never happen cuz the Chinese families would wanna get paid for appearing on TV.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Using children for adults entertainment.

I remember "sports day", and how it bothered me- Always hot, sunny, and the little kids train for it for weeks.

On the actual day, these little ones would "perform" in the hot sun for hours, while their parents watched, under tents.

In winter, little kids were escorted to school in uniform shorts, while the parent wears a goose down jacket and boots.

Kids are not toys, or amusing pets.

Sending little ones (2-6) to the streets to perform tasks without an adult to protect them is not cute or adorable, it's parental neglect.

The same as leaving this age group home alone, is.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

The show is staged, scripted, yarase, kids must audition for it. It is a good example of how savvy editing and humorous voice overs can manipulate viewers emotions. It's not reality TV as Netflix claims. It fake yarase tv and Japanese know it's fake. But westerners think it's a real thing.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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