Given all that humanity has had to deal with in the last couple of years, it’s no surprise that most of us are constantly on the lookout for feel-good shows. Escapism is pretty high on a lot of priority lists these days, and if that describes you, then Old Enough should be the next thing you watch to decompress.
Titled “Hajimete no Otsukai (My First Errand)” in Japan, Old Enough was recently acquired by Netflix for streaming in the US. The documentary-style Japanese reality show began airing in 1990 and follows children between the ages of 2 and 5 as they go on their first errand by themselves. To an American audience in the 2020s, this idea might sound anywhere from unsafe to terrifying. There are countless American true crime documentaries and television shows that dive into kidnapping and child murder, so the initial confusion one may face when first learning about Old Enough is understandable. In stark contrast to the US, Japan has a very low crime rate, and seeing young children out on their own is a regular occurance.
Allowing children this level of independence would not be possible without the cooperation of the adults in Japanese communities. Japanese children are imbued with a sense of community at a very young age, before and after they enter educational environments, with the idea that they can ask anyone in the community for help being strongly reinforced. The urban landscapes of Japan are also conducive to allowing children to be more independent, with the majority of commuting being on public transit, bike, or on foot. Cars can still be a danger for children, but are not as much of a risk as they are in places like the US or the UK.
In the 20 episodes that Netflix has available to stream, Old Enough chronicles the adventures of these young children in chapters that average about 13 minutes long. The kids go on tasks of varying size, from 2 year-old Hana traveling the short distance down the stairs of her mother’s restaurant to get a fish from her uncle, to 4 year-old friends Ryuta and Soichiro making multiple stops around their neighborhood in Tokyo. While some of the kids might be unsure about going out on their own, they all eventually set off and are very excited to be entrusted with responsibility.
One of the best parts of Old Enough is seeing the kids problem-solve in real time when things start to go awry. While there are plenty of camera operators and producers supervising in case intervention is necessary, they mostly leave the kids to figure out how to carry everything home or remember an item they may have forgotten to get during their errand. That doesn’t mean that all adults are off-limits as a resource for the kids, though. In one episode, the carrying strap for a young boy’s cooler breaks, and he goes to ask a man to fix the tie because he isn’t able to. The man happily agrees and sends the kid on his way. In general, all of the adults the children encounter are very encouraging and helpful without being overbearing in the way that parents often are in Western countries.
By the end of each episode, each child is congratulated and praised by their parents for having a successful outing, even if they didn’t manage to complete all of their tasks. Even though the episodes are generally pretty short, it’s really easy to get attached to these kids and hope that they’re able to succeed, and the moment they make it back is always very heartwarming. The lighthearted narration and musical queues all feed into the atmosphere of the show really well too, and it’s just an all-around good time even when the kids hit a small struggle in completing their missions.
Though Old Enough is far from possible in a lot of places, it certainly is a great respite from the slog we are often faced with day to day. Watching a toddler triumph at what they were sent out to do and then get praised is something so simple and sweet that you can’t help but love it, and something that wholesome is what we’re all in need of right now.
Watch on Netflix
Kathryn Porter is the TV Intern for Paste Magazine. You can find her @kaechops on Twitter
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