In Japan, cities are done so well that three-year-olds can walk on their own

The principle of “Comme les grands,” the Japanese reality TV show that just aired on Netflix, is pretty simple. In each ten-minute episode, a young kid goes to do his first shopping alone (well, alone with the paparazzi). He sighs and finishes the job, and ends up returning to his mother and father full of plastic bags.

“Hajimete no Otsukai”, a show based on the 1977 children’s book of the same name, has been on Japanese television for over thirty years – long enough parents Some kids from the last episodes showed up there too!

In the first of twenty episodes shown to Netflix subscribers, a two-year-old goes to the grocery store in town to do some shopping for his mom. At four, 3-year-old Yuka crosses five lanes in Akashi, a city the size of Cincinnati [le double de Paris en superficie, ndlr]In order to reach the fish market. “Are you able to get to Unotana without being hit by a car?” asks his mother.

question of choice

Needless to say, if the show were to be staged in the US, the parents would have Child Protective Services in trouble and the children would be put right away. Like many Japanese things, “Hajimete no Otsukai” would be easy to attribute. (literally “first commissions”) for some cliché about Japanese fundamentalism. But the Japanese are not much different from us. They just made choices that let kids shop on their own ten years earlier than their American counterparts.

“In Japan, many children go to school in the neighborhood by themselves or on foot, and this is quite the norm.”Explains Hironori Kato, who studies transportation planning at the University of Tokyo. The average Japanese kid usually doesn’t go shopping in town for his mom and dad at the age of two or three, he points out, as in the show. However, the TV-friendly sitcom only underscores a fact about Japanese society: From a very young age, children there have an extraordinary degree of independence.

Neighboring schools are responsible for a large portion of these excursions, many of which use ‘Bideboys’.

“Roads and streets are organized so that children can walk on them safely”Cato explains. Here are his arguments: In Japan, drivers are taught to submit to pedestrians. Speed ​​limits are low. Neighborhoods contain small apartment blocks with a range of intersections. This means that children have to cross the street a lot, but also that cars have to go slowly, even if only for their own good.

Even the streets are different. Many small lanes do not have elevated sidewalks, and pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists are expected to share the space. Few cars park along the sidewalks, and there are few parking spaces, which gives better visibility to motorists and pedestrians and helps give the small streets of big Japanese cities a special atmosphere.

right in the city

In fact, the first time I heard of “Hajimete no Otsukai”, It was from the mouth of Rebecca Clements, a researcher at the University of Sydney who wrote a thesis on parking in Japan: To get the right to end a purchase, car buyers must provide proof that they have a parking space that is not in a road. For Clements, the show is proof of how Japan presents children “Right to the City”.

Japanese children walk a lot on weekdays – especially children between the ages of 7 and 12, and about four out of five of them walk. Neighboring schools are responsible for a large portion of these excursions, many of which use “bedepopes” – a children’s procession where older children guide younger children. School outings also allow children to discover their neighborhood, facilitating other types of excursions.

“I went in there and said, is this about infrastructure or culture?” E remembers. Owen Weygood, an instructor at Montreal Polytechnic, whose doctoral thesis at Kyoto University focuses on flights and the use of space by Japanese children. “There is a basic cultural value – Japanese parents believe that children should be able to move around on their own. And they have put in place policies to allow this. Japanese cities are built on the concept that every neighborhood should be able to function as a village. This planning model means you have shops and businesses Small businesses in residential neighborhoods, so places you can go — places kids can go on foot.”

Waygood’s research reveals that in Japan, children are more likely to move independently in urban and mixed-use neighborhoods. This is partly because the places to get to are close by, but also, contrary to the common stereotype about supposed and faceless cities, that city kids are more likely to meet people they know on these trips.

A city that liberates children also liberates their parents.

Not that Japanese parents are not afraid of the danger of strangers on the street; If the crime rate is low there, by Western standards, then kidnappings happen. This is also a topic six fourthe detective novel published by Hideo Yokoyama in 2012, which has been a huge success in Japan and abroad.

But instead of telling children not to talk to anyone, Waygood notes, they are taught to greet people they pass, which is part of the Japanese culture of greeting, aisatsu.. Combined with neighborhood events such as neighbors’ parties and festivals, it helps weave a dense social network that can help out when needed, as in Episode 7 of “Hajimete,” when a street corner hardware store helps Miro cross. In a survey of fourteen countries, Japanese parents were the most consistent with the idea that adults in the neighborhood should take care of other people’s children.

mothers comfort

The mother is probably the biggest winner in this system. When children need a companion, it is most often on them, in the United States as in Japan. However, Waygood discovered that Japanese children aged 10-11 take only 15% of their weekday trips with a parent, compared to 65% of their American counterparts. A city that liberates children also liberates their parents.

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Of course, it’s a cultural difference. But it is a difference closely related to a different approach to designing cities and neighborhoods – one that we can easily copy, if we want to.

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