If you saw a toddler walking alone on the streets with a yellow flag in their hands, attempting to buy something from a shop, your first natural reaction would be to call the police to report a missing child. However, seeing a toddler perform everyday mundane errands on their own is the biggest allure and appeal of the popular Japanese show Hajimete no Otsukai which has now arrived on Netflix in form of shorter episodes, titled Old Enough.
While Netflix has a variety of shows and films across all genres, Old Enough is a docu-series that seems to transcend this fixed compartmentalisation. To see young children, sometimes as young as two, embark on a daunting journey to go shopping or use public transport is adorable, fascinating and sometimes disturbing. Hajimete no Otsukai is a show that has been popular in Japan for over three decades and boasts an impressive viewership. The sheer thrill and anxiety that is induced by these toddlers’ solo adventures seem to have drawn in viewers for many years.
While the Japanese shows are about three-hour-long, Netflix is well aware of its audience’s short attention span and has kept most of the episodes well under 20 minutes. The length of the episodes, however, does not indicate the amount of preparation that goes on behind the scenes. All the routes are well observed and inspected to keep away dangerous people and to steer the children away from shady roads. The local neighbours are informed well in advance and the camera crew and safety team hide in several spots to record the children. The children are chosen after a long-drawn and exhaustive process where the producers shortlist the candidates after careful deliberation.
The toddlers are no more than six years old as they embark on these quests. From buying ingredients to finding their way back home, they are posed these difficult challenges that most of them are able to conquer. The sheer glee and pride at the prospect of being self-sufficient and learning the ways of the world are pretty endearing. The newfound confidence they derive from the completion of these activities will definitely prove to be an asset in the future. The entire concept surrounding the parents’ trust in their children also helps build their sense of responsibility and dependability in future.
However, the same prospect seems somewhat unsettling and terrifying. The identities of these toddlers are being exposed to the general public at a very young age. Japan ranks pretty high up in terms of child abuse. Just last year, nearly 86 children were kidnapped in the country via social media. Given how easy targets children are with their innocence and naivete, it would not take a twisted pervert too long to track them down while they are on some errand or two, beyond the cameras. The security of these children and protecting their identity seems to be quite concerning to me.
However, I agree that while lack of safety in neighbourhoods is just not a concern in Japan but plagues most major countries in the world, the general sense of independence and confidence that is ushered into the minds of the toddlers, adds to their cognitive and emotional development. Much like various other Japanese entertainment programmes like Takeshi’s Castle, the show uses cartoon scribbles and font to make it seem endearing, with a steady laugh track.
While a British remake is allegedly in the works, Old Enough seems to have inspired parents all over the world. Some are concerned while others are perplexed and amazed by these Japanese toddlers’ courage and maturity while learning new and evolved methods of parenting.