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Old Enough poster

Old Enough!

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What it’s about:

This Japanese import follows children between the ages of 2 and 5 as they are sent on simple errands by their parents. A hidden camera crew films the toddlers as they do their best to conquer challenges like delivering lunch to Dad at work or picking up a few items at the store.

Names you might know:

Aside from broadcaster Nippon TV, the only name American viewers might recognize in Old Enough! is that of the picturesque small town they visited while on vacation in Japan.

Why it’s worth your time:
Netflix (screencap by The Watercooler)

The idea of sending a three-year-old to the supermarket by themselves might seem terrifying to North American parents. But the Japanese documentary series Old Enough! is hardly a white-knuckle experience. Japanese cities are generally safer and more walkable than American ones, and the kids on the show aren’t really alone. They’re followed on their errands by camera crews, who disguise their equipment using tool boxes and shopping bags to give kids the impression that they really are doing it all by themselves. The emphasis is on making happy lifelong memories for the child, as well as encouraging confidence and self-reliance.

With the children’s safety thus accounted for, viewers are free to enjoy the adorably unfiltered personalities of very young children, and the unique ways that kids think and solve problems. Some of the young subjects are overwhelmed by the prospect of going out without Mom, while others run out the door with barely a “see you later.” Some speak to shopkeepers (who have also been warned ahead of time that a very special customer will be coming by that day) in a timid whisper, while others are chatty and bold. One of the most heartwarming things about the show is seeing communities come together to support kids on their first errands; in one episode, a little girl who breaks down in tears after she can’t find the right store gets a standing ovation from her neighbors when she puts on a brave face and goes back out to finish her errand.

But while Old Enough! is a relaxing, life-affirming watch, it also squeezes a surprising amount of suspense out of the adventures of its little helpers. Will 5-year-old Sota be able to carry the apples and extra-large container of milk he bought for his little sister up the steep hill to their house? Will 3-year-old Koiki be able to buy ice and deliver a fish to her grandma without crying? (She’s a big crier, but she’s been trying to be more grown-up lately.) The kids are so sweet, and so earnest in their desire to help out at home, that you’re rooting for them throughout each short episode. But even when they return home without a single item on Mom’s list, the results are utterly charming.

The takeaway:

Episodes of Old Enough! run less than a half hour apiece, which makes it easy to gobble up Netflix’s 20-episode collection in an afternoon. They do tend to run together if you watch more than a handful at a time, however, which makes an episode of Old Enough! a good choice for a short, uplifting break in the middle of the WFH day.

Watch it with:

Anyone Old Enough! to read. The series is suitable for all ages, but is presented in subtitled Japanese, which presents a challenge to viewers the same age as the kids on the show. Elementary-age children should be able to follow along, however, as the dialogue is never all that complicated.

Worth noting:

Old Enough!, or Hajimete no Otsukai (First Errand), is a long-running favorite in Japan, where it’s aired on Nippon TV since 1991. Sending a child on their first errand, either by themselves or with a sibling, is a developmental milestone in Japan, where kids are taught to be independent and responsible at a far younger age than in the U.S.

The show’s producers say that kids younger than 5 years and 3 months are unselfconscious enough not to notice that camera crews are following them around—and they would know, as they’ve tailed thousands of kids on their first errands over the years.

Since it first dropped on Netflix with little fanfare this March, Old Enough! seems to be breaking into American pop-culture now too, if you go by the metric of “popular enough for a Saturday Night Live spoof.”

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