The Little Travelers: Japan


A JET Alum’s Unique Approach  to Children’s Videos

Reviewed by Lyle Sylvander (Yokohama-shi, 2001-02) & Steven Horowitz (Aichi-ken, 1992-94)

Looking for a video that’s natukashii for JET alums, educational for kids and omoshiroi for all ages?

Well, a member of the JET alum community may have just what you need.  And no, it’s not called Barney’s Japanese Campfire Sing-Along.

Little Travelers Productions ( was formed by the husband and wife team of Mike Hart (Mie-ken, CIR1994-1995) and Angelina Hart.  After JET, Mike worked for Kirin Trading Company in California and spent several years leading customized culinary, garden and art tours of Japan.  He met Angelina, now a child development specialist, while in a psychology master’s program.  Realizing that the vast majority of children’s videos were either mind-numbingly oversimplified or woefully inadequate in educating children about foreign cultures, the couple embarked on an ambitious plan to fill the gap:  They decided to produce videos that introduced young children to foreign cultures through deep immersion and daily living.  Using their own two gregarious and inquisitive children as narrators and guides, the company launched its first DVD, Little Travelers: Japan, earlier this year.

Little Travelers adopts the single-camera point-of-view perspective of the ubiquitous cable show Globe Trekker.  Unlike that series, however, Little Travelers does not confine itself to the impressions of the passive tourist.  Rather, there is a serious attempt to explore the deep cultural experiences of living within another culture.  Mr. Hart’s experiences living in Japan have no doubt inspired the narrative.  Indeed, if there were a JET program for toddlers, this would be an ideal initiation video.

The video begins with the two girls, named Chantelle and Nakia, anxiously leaving the familiarity of California for their new home in the Kansai area.   Getting acquainted with their new home involves such cultural adjustments as sleeping on a futon, hang drying the laundry and using a rice cooker.  Soon, the children visit the local grocery and department stores, observing how different shopping habits fulfill familiar shopping needs.  They are introduced to such uniquely Japanese food items as sushi, mochi, onigiri and bento boxes.

Once acclimated to their surroundings, the children explore the divergent cultural aspects of Japan.  They attend nursery school, make friends, learn some hiragana, katakana and kanji, write calligraphy, bang taiko drums, visit a mask maker and a pottery maker and have tea with a Shinto priest.  Throughout all of this, we are shown gorgeously shot postcard images of old Kyoto, complete with cherry blossoms.  The video ends with a visit to a ninja exhibit.  While ninjas may not be Japan’s most lasting contribution to world heritage, they are no doubt of great interest to young male viewers.  In short, this video has something for everyone.

Little Travelers also has one other video on the market — Little Travelers: Bali — and is currently shooting an episode in Ireland and Scotland.  If all goes to plan, the company will shoot yet another in Iran (of all places) sometime next year.

In addition to increasing cultural awareness, Mike hopes that this series will inspire children to travel and see the world, something that he himself did not do as a child.  While growing up, he laments, his parents only took him on one long distance trip – to Disney World – and nixed his plan to live in Spain as a high school exchange student.  With numerous trips to Japan and elsewhere under his belt since then, he has certainly made up for lost ground and his children will be unlikely to lodge similar complaints towards him.
Little Travelers: Japan is a fine introduction to this series and is a harbinger of much success and travels to come.

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