The Ando family are not unique. You see, Japanese families encourage their children to travel to and from school alone every single day. By Western standards, Japanese culture emphasises independence and self-reliance from an extraodinarily young age. In fact, one of Japan’s most loved and longest running TV shows, is called My First Errand, In which young children are given neighbourhood tasks, and secretly filmed as they set about them alone, sometimes even with a younger sibling in tow. My First Errand is appealing because all Japanese people had that experience of having their parents entrust them to do some simple job where they leave the house on their own and they come back to the house on their own. And it’s funny. Jake Adelstein was the first Westerner to work a crime beat in Japan. giving him an insight into Japanese crime and justice no other Westerner has. He, like many foreigners, noticed something different about Japan. As I was walking to the station i would see these young kids coming from the station with their little backpacks on, walking towards the school, thiking, where are the adults? Like, who is making sure these kids cross the road and get to school okay? Even my own daughter, when she was about four or five, and she said, I’m going to walk there myself. And she left, and I put down the phone and chased after her, and she ran all the way to school, and of course nothing happened to her. And I was like, you know? Maybe in Japan that’s how it works. It’s Monday morning on Sydney’s affluent North Shore, where the Frasier family are starting the day. My name is Rob Fraser, I’m 47 years of age, there’s three of us in the family. There’s myself, there’s Jane, and Emily, who is 10. There’s an apple in your bag Em. Please don’t leave the apple in your bag all week. Am i turning lights off again? Yes, you are. All right. Tennis raquet is in the car? No, not yet. Wow. Um… it’s cool. i had a conversation with her the other day about what would she like to do, would she like
to get the bus to school, would she like to go on her own. She made it very clear that she would like to do that. One thing I’m most looking forward to in high school is walking home from school by myself, And having a key and everything. Give me a kiss? I’ll see you later. In fact, studies show kids want to walk to school. It’s their parents that won’t or can’t. The evidence is irrefutable – that children are not safe to cross roads on their own until they’re ten. That’s why we’re so nervous about children being allowed to walk on their own to school, though they might be on the footpath the whole way. But it should be safe. You see, Emily’s School, Middle Harbour Public, was the first to trial a 40 km p/h school zone in Australia. It’s also a cultural reason. If you look at the way Australians behave when they reach a school zone, I mean, a lot of people have one thing on their minds, and that’s themselves. They don’t care less about anyone else. Group socialisation is huge in Japan. Having parents pick up and drop off their kids would be bad for Japan incorporated, and that’s one of the reasons you probably don’t see it. It’s also one of the other reasons that Japan and Japanese society is set up to make it safe for kids to commute to school, because if parents have to be responsible for that commute, they’re going to have to reorganise the entire workforce and the way companies work. Japan, of course, has an exceptionally low crime rate. They have more than five times our population but less than four times the homocides we have. I’ve covered very few cases of children being abducted. Maybe one child death in the 12 years I was a reporter. That’s the only one I encountered. But to say kids go alone to school because of a low crime rate would miss more subtle and underlying forces. Our society suffers from a paranoia about leaving children on their own. I think some of it is probably ill-perceived. But a lot of it is understood. I don’t believe there’s any more dangers now, other than traffic, than there were 30, 40 years ago. I think the fact that it’s more in the public eye, it’s in the press all the time, I think also with the social pressure element of letting go and letting them go and do things at such a young age, I think is actually quite difficult to take on. Kawaii ko literally means cute kid, and tabi o saseyo means put them on a trip, so the meaning is, if you love your kids, or you want your kids to be smarter, send them to do something, send them on a trip. Kids are less independent nowdays. it’s just the way it is. You have got me thinking about it. You’ve got me thinking that maybe I’m being a little bit paranoid.