I’ve spent the better part of two weekends watching young Japanese children run mundane errands, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Old Enough (marketed as Hajimete no Otsukai, or “My First Errand,” in Japan), is a recent viral sensation on Netflix — but it’s been a phenomenon in Japan for 30 years, where something like a fifth of the population tunes in each broadcast. In the show, children from the ages of 2 to 4 are sent out on their own to navigate often-food-related chores, such as picking up a few items from the grocery store, or delivering a forgotten sushi apron to their parents’ restaurant. The tasks are relatively simple (and crews of scouts and photographers are on hand to add an additional element of safety), but their scope reaches far beyond what similarly aged children in America would handle solo, whether it be taking the bus unaccompanied, walking several kilometers up steep stills and steps, or shopping and paying for items independently.
I wasn’t totally unfamiliar with the increased independence children seem to have in Japan; I’ve seen it play out on other real-to-life series like Japanese Style Originator and Lunch On!, and when I visited Tokyo and Kyoto, I often saw young kids walking home and taking the subway by themselves. I’m not a parent, so I don’t feel as invested in the safety aspect of the show, though it’s certainly caught the attention of my parent friends. “If I let my son do this stuff, I’d get arrested,” one said on Instagram. The transportation component is particularly interesting — American cities are much more reliant on cars, so it follows that safety concerns for unsupervised young pedestrians here are much higher. A coworker said that while the show wasn’t convincing her to send her toddler wandering around L.A. anytime soon, “it does make me feel confident in my decision to have her already starting to have some tasks/chores — this proves just how capable kids really are.”
Let’s talk about those capable kids. Old Enough is a show where a simple task becomes incredibly high stakes — I quickly found myself choking up as parents became consumed with pride or anxiety as their kids worked to complete a job; I wanted to comfort the kids who burst into tears, frustrated that they didn’t quite execute a chore correctly. I literally cheered out loud when a particularly industrious girl managed to pull a full head of cabbage out of the ground at her family’s farm (she hadn’t noticed the already harvested vegetables her mother had left for her to bring back home).
The adorable factor is consistent throughout the series — my husband and I tried deciding on a favorite kiddo from the 20 episodes we watched and never could pick. Was it the pair of BFFs, one cautious and the other a daredevil, who immediately spotted the hidden cameras tracking their movements but were successfully convinced the film crew was there to do electrical work? Was it the cute terror of a kid sent home to make fresh juice for his family, only to get distracted by toys and dogs until his mother called to track him down? Maybe it was the cutie who went rogue when shopping for her parents’ lunch ingredients at the fish market, and decided to buy sea bream instead of shrimp because the fish head was pink and had a “cute face.” Or perhaps the son of the ramen chef who helped create a kids’ menu dish specifically aimed at young taste buds.
Okay, I clearly can’t pick a favorite. But at least I have a new favorite television program — bring on more episodes, Netflix. You have 30 seasons to choose from; there have to be more charming highlights.