Walking Alone at Age 7: Japan’s Independent Kids
Opening with the Japanese proverb kawaii ko ni wa tabi saseyo, which translates to “send the beloved child on a journey” and means something like ‘leave them be, let them try,’ this new mini-documentary from Australian TV channel SBS 2 depicts one of the significant cultural differences between Japan and much of the western world.
You can watch the short 8-minute video here:
We’re first introduced to a Tokyo family of three: Ando Noe (7), and her parents. Her mother remarks how Noe bathes on her own and brushes her own teeth, which—for some—may not seem too extraordinary, but then she goes on to say “Yes, apart from taking care of the house, she can do most things, I think.”
This statement includes Noe making the exceptionally long journey to and from school all by herself.
Noe, at the tender age of seven, walks to the train station, takes the staggeringly busy JR Yamanote Line to the world’s busiest station, Shinjuku, where she then transfers to the Chūō Line and goes to Kokubunji Station, far from the Tokyo Metropolitan Area. As we follow Noe on her journey, her mother’s voice-over goes on to say that Noe needs to learn how to solve things on her own, as she won’t be able to get home if she doesn’t. This is said without a trace or malice or irony, in case you’ve yet to watch the movie.
In fact, the norm seems to be Japanese families encouraging their children to travel to and from school every day alone, practicing self-reliance and maturity from what seems like an absurdly young age, at least to western viewers. Further insight is gained when American investigative journalist and Tokyo Vice author Jake Adelstein is interviewed, recalling one of his own personal experiences:
“As I was walking to the station, I would see the kids coming from the stations with their little backpacks on, walking towards the school, thinking ‘where are the adults?’ Like, who’s making sure these kids cross the road and, y’know, get to school okay?”
He goes on to say that when his own daughter was approximately 4 or 5 years old, she announced that she was going to go walk to school herself. As she left alone, Jake ended his telephone call and went chasing after her, obviously worried.
Jake ends his little tale with “of course, nothing happened to her.”
Such is Japan.
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