Japanese children are unlike any other children in the world. They are taught to be independent at a young age that it becomes a common sight to see kids as young as 7 years old riding the train alone. Though parents are quite apprehensive at first, they put their fears aside as there are so many kids in Japan who are able to do it safely. Many of them are already sent out to travel via public transportation by themselves. This is probably unthinkable for many parents, but this is how little kids in Japan are prepared for independence.
Japanese kids are regularly sent out into the outside world at a very young age by their parents. Many of them believe that walking to school and simple field trips are the first steps in teaching children to become independent. Independence is one of the Japanese attributes that set them apart from the rest. So don’t be surprised if you see little kids in Japan wearing knee socks, polished patent leather shoes, and plaid jumpers, with wide-brimmed hats making their way to the station, grocery, bakery, and many other places. Parents believe that the trains are safe, on-time, and easy to navigate, thus they rely on their kids’ intelligence to go out unguided.
Many Japanese kids are already given simple tasks at the age of 2 or 3. Most of these tasks are related to family matters such as cleaning or throwing small pieces of trash. It is a way of life for young kids not only at home but also in school where they learn the proper way of cleaning and serving lunch instead of depending on the staff. Work in school is also being distributed and rotated among different students at varying times. Kids are also brought up with the idea of the consequences of making their own mess. They know that they have to clean it by themselves. In this sense, they truly understand their responsibilities and its extension in the public space. No wonder Japanese streets are very clean!
Children’s independence comes from several factors and reasons. First, they have been taught about the concept of “group reliance” at a very young age. This is the reason why children have a high degree of independence. They rely on groups and learn that it is ideal and important to help others who are in need. A child in public clearly knows that in case of an emergency, he can rely on others for help. Most of the time, this sense of trust and cooperation are unspoken and unsolicited.
Another reason is the country’s security and safety. Japan is one of the places with the lowest crime rates in the world. This makes parents feel confident in sending their children out alone. The culture of walking and transiting is something common in the country so this probably fosters safety, too. People in the country are accustomed to walking everywhere as there are so many human-sized spaces. Drivers are also used to sharing the roads with pedestrians, thus many people think that it is safe for kids to cross the road.
These children are given freedom at a young age. This affects the trust that their parents establish on them.
Though it might be safe to let a 9-year-old kid travel using the Tokyo subway, it is not the same in other countries or states such as New York and London. The old generation’s younger days were even more difficult as they had to go out alone without any cellular phones or other means of communication. That means they had to go from point A to point B successfully on their own.
Many kids in Japan are taught independence the moment they enter preschool or yochien (幼稚園). One of the things they learn is how to become self-reliant, such as cleaning up after themselves. It is a bit-by-bit approach which ensures responsibility in children.
Interestingly, there is even a television show in Japan entitled, Hajimete no Otsukai (First Errand), that shows small children carrying out errands for their parents. The show features children as young as 2 or 3 who are doing simple tasks on their own. A hidden camera crew films them to clearly show how capable these little Japanese kids are. It is said that the show has been running for more than 25 years. Many people think that the show is hilarious and that the kids involved are competent and very cute.
It is the wider community that plays a huge role in helping foster independence in children. Parents are actually placing a significant trust not on only on their kids but also on the wider community. It makes parents feel confident in letting their children go. When neighbors see children who are walking alone, they do not call the police but they help immediately. Everyone pitches in to ensure that the children arrive at their individual homes safe and sound. The route to and from school often includes help along the way, such as volunteer crossing guards and signs designating homes in cases of emergencies. It is very easy to ask for help when you’re lost in Japan.
Independence is a lifelong lesson. It is a skill taught through months of practice which also establishes a sense of responsibility. Responsibility comes one step at a time. Teaching children to be independent at a young age will also develop their self-reliance which will benefit everyone. There are even schools in the country that ban cars from doing drop-offs, instead, children are required to walk or commute. Instilling this in kids at a young age often gives them the necessary confidence they need. It also makes them decisive. This enables them to do simple tasks and master them at a very young age, which in the future, will allow them to handle more difficult challenges in life. They will then grow towards a successful adulthood and also teach independence to their kids, which is a healthy cycle.
How about you? How was your childhood experience? Was it the same with Japanese kids?