Old Enough is a recent addition to Netflix’s line of reality TV shows, this time based in Japan. To Western audiences, the premise of the reality show might be an eye-opening experience to behold, especially considering the stars of the show.
The anime Kotaru Lives Alone features a small boy who lives alone in his own apartment – and how the adults around him react to the situation. The apartment complex dwellers quickly become unofficial caretakers to Kotaru, although he is perfectly competent at doing adult tasks like grocery shopping all by himself. While this is an extreme case, the reality show Old Enough! on Netflix documents real Japanese children following a cultural tradition: running their first errand.
Old Enough on Netflix – Safety in Numbers
While parents in most major metropolises would balk at letting their children run to shops or restaurants on busy city streets alone, Japanese culture differs greatly. Japan’s low crime rate, culture of group cooperation, and efficient, spacious public transit system all combine to create an atmosphere that makes parents and children alike feel safe at the idea of solo trips on the subway to school and back, or to accomplish errands unaccompanied at a young age.
Japanese culture encourages shared responsibility, and this extends to keeping an eye out for unaccompanied children on the streets of major cities like Tokyo. It is expected that a passerby will help a child who seems in need of aid. Furthermore, parents begin acclimating their children to being more self-reliant before the age of six in preparation for the demands of elementary school.
The First Errand
Known in Japan as Hajimete No Otsukai, meaning “First Errand”, Nippon TV’s reality show documents children reaching this milestone. The show has been on air in Japan for decades, but only began airing on Netflix in 2022. While it has been a massive hit, it has also sparked debate about whether children that young should be alone in the city. However, the show’s producers had this to say:
“It’s when they run an errand that their true strength comes out. It’s difficult for a child to persevere until the end unless they’re doing it for someone. For the first time ever, a child who has had everything done for them until now gets to experience the joy of doing something for someone.”
They also reveal that the children are told that the camera crew are electricians.
The Beauty of ‘Old Enough’
While international audiences may scratch their heads at the novelty of seeing five-year-olds pop into convenience stores alone and pay for their purchases, the show captures children on the threshold of entering society. In a culture that emphasizes a job well done and being a productive member of a larger group, these children eagerly embrace the chance to help their family and make their parents proud of them by buying a Shinto shrine amulet, an ingredient for dinner, or a snack for lunchtime.
The confidence boost is obvious, and each episode ends with the parents welcoming their children home and expressing their pride. Despite the debate it has provoked, the child stars of each episode are clearly proud to be ‘old enough’ to hit the streets and embrace responsibility, one small step at a time.
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