After airing in Japan for three decades, a reality show covering children running their first errands on their own has gained a big following in Western countries.
Nippon Television Network Corp.’s “Old Enough!” has created a stir on social media after it started streaming worldwide on Netflix, prompting U.S. and European media outlets to run features.
In an online story headlined “‘Old Enough’: the Japanese TV show that abandons toddlers on public transport,” British daily The Guardian said: “Part of the appeal … is the show’s ability to instill confidence into the children.”
The long-running show features preschoolers tasked by their parents with running errands, such as grocery shopping.
Staff members consult with experts and police in advance to secure the children’s safety on errand routes and pretend to be passers-by to watch over them during the filming process. But they basically give no help to the children.
Nippon Television, which started the program as a one-shot special in 1991, has aired 74 episodes. The broadcaster re-edited the show into a series with 20 episodes, each running about 10 minutes, before selling it to Netflix.
The streaming service is distributing “Old Enough!” in 190 countries and regions with subtitles in 32 languages.
After the series debuted on March 31, Twitter was flooded with feedback from English-speaking viewers, who said they were overwhelmed by how cute the children were, that they were captivated by the show and that they wanted another 100 seasons.
When Netflix introduced the show with highlight footage on its official Twitter account on April 12, it attracted about 30,000 likes.
Western media were quick to respond.
In an article titled “Why ‘Old Enough’ Is the Show You Should Be Watching Right Now,” U.S. magazine Time said: “It’s also a nice reminder that wonder can be found in even the most basic of activities–if we only take the time to look for it.”
The show has also sparked controversy over parenting.
ABC News of the United States aired a feature titled “Would You Send Your Toddler to the Store Alone?”
While the broadcaster cited opinions from viewers skeptical about sending children to run errands alone, an expert commented, “Children are far more capable than what we think.”
Trevor Noah, the host of “The Daily Show,” a popular U.S. satirical news program, said “Old Enough!” is one of his favorite Netflix shows. He said children should have more freedom as American parents put leashes on their kids while they let their dogs run around free.
Nippon Television has been amazed by responses generated by “Old Enough!”
“We have been making the show, hoping to cheer up viewers as they watch children doing their best,” said producer Naoko Yano.
“It is also our show’s theme to record the scenes of the country from coast to coast. I think viewers are enjoying it because they can see the natural features and everyday lives in Japan.”
The broadcaster has sold the program format for “Old Enough!” to companies mainly in Asia, and the show has been remade in Vietnam, China and elsewhere.
“We were confident it would be popular abroad,” a staff member in charge of overseas business said.
“We want to bolster our efforts to sell programs and formats and co-produce shows with foreign broadcasters because our production capabilities have begun to win recognition outside Japan.”
A Netflix public relations representative said, “We strongly feel once again that only programs that are unique in the truest sense can cross cultural and language barriers and be loved by fans across the world.”