I recently lost two 14 year old girls. We were at Sakura-Con, an anime convention in Seattle. Two of the three teenagers in our group went with permission to buy food. They did not return. The Seattle Convention Center was packed with tens of thousands of people, most dressed as characters from.
It was a frantic over an hour before they returned, apologetically (the phone had no data; the convention center had no Wi-Fi; I lost track of the time), having already played out every hellish scenario in my mind. Have they been kidnapped? Hit by a car? Forgot where we said to meet? Killed by a demon?
So it was with the memory of that lingering panic I settled into to watch Old Enough.. It’s a long-running Japanese documentary series in which TV cameras follow 2-year-olds as their parents send them on their first errand away from home.
The program is called Hajimete no Otsukai (My First Order) in Japan, where it has been running for decades. Some of the little ones we see in the Netflix episodes can probably already drive.
Some of the errands are pretty simple — in one, a 2-year-old walks a few houses to a dry cleaner to drop off his sushi chef father’s white work clothes. It took him a while, but he got the job done.
But in another, a boy had to wander home from his grandfather’s orange fields, make a container full of tangerine juice and an orange from scratch all by himself, and carry the juice back to his thirsty family. I’m a Gen Xer, the age group known for being left alone almost since birth, and even I can’t imagine dealing with that as a preschooler.
Netflix has 20 episodes and each is about 10-20 minutes long. The show is subtitled, which is a problem for some, but I think it adds to the charm. The narrator is the sassy, cocky guy I’m used to from Japanese shows. He tells it like it is, narrating “Are you sure this is a good idea, Mom?” as a mother waves her little one and snarls, “The doors have opened, but the chains haven’t connected yet,” as the child gets distracted by the toy capsule machines.
Hearing the parents speak directly to the children without being dubbed adds to the drama. Even if you don’t speak Japanese, you can hear the worry and wonder in their tones as they try to direct their child to a task. They aren’t sure that Little Hiroki can do it, but they can’t let him know about it.
Of course, there was a social uproar about whether it was safe. One child had to walk an entire kilometer (over half a mile) down a busy street using a homemade traffic flag to cross traffic. And yes, this is Japan, not the less kid-friendly and more crime-wary USA. But I’m half a century older than that kid, and I once got terribly lost in Japan. Watching Old Enough will almost certainly have you reminiscing about your first ventures outside the house, and maybe thinking about how much responsibility you give (or don’t give) to your own children, if you have them.
Bad things can happen anywhere and to anyone, but the show’s producers say they check the routes beforehand, and you can see the camera operators following them (sometimes frantically racing to keep up with the 2-year-old’s legs). Once, when a little girl was walking and it got dark, the camera crew turned on their car headlights to light her way home. With that kind of adult supervision, I never felt like the kids were really in danger.
And it’s hard to argue with the sense of satisfaction that children develop within themselves simply by completing these errands. The tasks are trivial for adults but huge for little ones.
My own teenage daughter just returned from a school trip to the East Coast. Although it was carefully escorted, there were still times when she had to feel like she was stepping out into the big world for the first time, alone in Manhattan, able to walk into any store within reasonable distance without an adult nearby. It is a freedom that cannot be explained, it must be experienced.
Anyone can get lost anywhere – I’m still troubled when I think about our brief disappearance at the anime convention. But Old Enough offers plenty of intriguing topics to discuss, and it’s also unadulterated, family-friendly entertainment. The world is waiting, kids.
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