If you’ve headed to Netflix lately, you might have noticed a new Japanese addition called Old enough, an unscripted reality show in which children aged 2 to 5 are given daily errands to run for their families. Now, if you’ve watched an episode or two, you might be wondering: wait…this is Old enough real? Here’s everything you need to know.
Each episode of Old enough lasts between 5 and 15 minutes. One toddler can be asked to go to the store to get a list of items, another to tend to their family’s restaurant, another to make orange juice. Some fly with a sibling, but most fly solo. As they attempt these tasks, an unseen comedian adds commentary and narration, alternately praising the child and gently roasting their less-than-sophisticated efforts. In front of the camera, however, the children are on their own – no one, at least no one from the Old enough team, helps them buy the curry, make an offering to the local shrine or cook a meal. They do everything themselves…or do they?
Romper did some research and even spoke to some mothers living in Japan to find cultural insight and see what might get lost in translation.
Old enough has been broadcast on Japanese television for more than 30 years.
Old enough (or Hajimete no Otsukai, the title of the program in Japanese) first broadcast in Japan in 1990, where it is incredibly popular — it is currently broadcast twice a year for three-hour specials and attracts 20% of the Japanese audience, The Guardian reports.
“Everyone likes it in Japan; that’s why the show was running [a] for a long time,” Yuuki, a mother living in Tokyo, told Romper. “You can see kids trying so hard to be brave or not to give up.”
While the series’ visual language may be a bit unfamiliar or unusual to American audiences (a lot of bubble font graphics pop up frequently), it doesn’t take long to get used to or get in the way of the fun a bit. Indeed the show has already proven itself international appealwith adaptations in Italy, the UK, Vietnam, China and Singapore.
Children are supervised by a masked security team.
The same thing that makes the show entertaining and utterly charming — little kids trying to do grown-up things — can also be a bit of a pain at times. Like, “Why is this kid crossing the street by himself? or “You mean this toddler is a mile away from home without any supervision?!”
Not exactly. TBI Vision reports that a hidden security team – disguised as gardeners, passers-by, other shoppers, etc. — are all around to make sure the lovable helpers don’t hurt themselves and are never truly unattended (not to mention the cameramen following them), a fact that is common knowledge among Japanese fans.
“There are a lot of TV staff supporting the kids and protecting them from harm,” Tokyo’s mother Noriko told Romper. “And of course we know that well. So we can enjoy watching.
And it’s not just the Old enough team involved. In any case, the producers are quite meticulous in coordinating with the parents of the children as well as parent organizations to choose an appropriate race. It will always be a challenge, but parents are involved to make sure it’s not also difficult.
Children running such errands are not as unusual in Japan as they are in the United States.
As you can imagine, toddlers running for groceries are not an accurate representation of Japanese childhood. (If it did, it probably wouldn’t be so entertaining in Japan, would it?)
While Yui recalls a shorter run to fetch cabbage with her brother when they were 6 and 4 in Tokyo 38 years ago (they ended up having lettuce by mistake), she doesn’t think so. that kind of thing would work today. “It is impossible for children to walk alone in the city,” the Tokyo-based mother told Romper. “Maybe it’s OK in areas where they know each other well. If we do the same with our own children… some people will get worried and start looking for the parents of the children.
But as for Ayaka, a mom of two in Tokyo, she gladly let her 3- and 6-year-olds go outside to pick up vegetables first. “I think it’s a good experience for them,” she tells Romper. “I think it’s OK in Japan.”
And yet, while most preschoolers may not yet be doing things independently, the mothers we spoke to let us know that starting in elementary school, Japanese schoolchildren are generally supposed gain a degree of independence – public transit to school, running errands – that would be quite unusual for most Americans of the same age.
The American public is charmed.
In many ways, Old enough looks a lot like The great British pastry fair. It is imported from overseas and quite charming. Everyone there is absolutely valuable, there are comedic hosts, and he has the ability to get you intensely invested in simple, fairly low-stakes goals without stressing you out. In short, Americans are here for that.
“Found Old enough on Netflix today and it quickly became my new viewing obsession,” tweeted @KevinJK. “It’s such a healthy fight.”
“I have tears in my eyes from laughing at the first two episodes. It’s called Old enoughand it’s a show about toddlers with better executive function than me,” @cocoadog tweeted.
“Excuse me please @netflix but you need to get a thousand more episodes of Old enough,” suggested @EmolumentsNow. “THIS IS THE PUREST AND GREATEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN.”