Radio Taiso: Radio Calisthenics
Some of Japan’s traditions, like the tea ceremony, date back centuries and are well-known in the west. Some, practiced by many more of the population, are not quite as old or as well known in the west.
For example, have you ever heard that music in the video below? It is safe to say every person in Japan knows that music. Almost every Japanese is ready to stand up and exercise nearly-spontaneously when they hear it. The response is practically Pavlovian.
What we’re talking about here is radio taiso (radio calisthenics), a Japanese cultural institution, broadcast several times a day on television, radio and the Internet by NHK, the national broadcast station.
Currently, some 20 percent of the entire population, or around 27 million people, do the warmups everyday. You’ll see groups of school kids bending and stretching, and gaggles of senior citizens out in the parks in good weather and bad doing the same. Stay-at-home moms will follow along at home, and many old-line Japanese companies will have the whole factory floor or office stand and participate.
Elementary school kids do the exercises every day, sometimes twice a day, during summer vacation. Many are issued radio exercise cards, and collect a stamp each time they exercise. If the card is filled at the end of the summer, the kids get prizes, such as stationery or snacks.
The Origins Of Radio Taiso
Japanese Imperial Army doing taiso during World War II-Image Source: Marketingjapan
Even during WWII, radio taiso was a part of Japanese life, as every soldier was required to start his day with that same music. Japanese troops brought radio taiso with them overseas during the war, and a version is still practiced in China and other parts of Asia because of that. The Allied Occupation forces banned radio taiso in 1946 for this reason, but as you can see, it made a comeback. Radio tasio is a big, big deal.
The whole thing started on NHK Radio in the 1920s, to promote health and well-being at a time when life expectancy was stuck at around age 40. The routine was supposedly derived from a workout created in the U.S. by the American Metropolitan Life Insurance Company as an advertisement for the company, and then brought to Japan, where it obviously took on a life of its own.
Taiso Is A Japanese Way Of Living
The exercises consist of simple calisthenics that can be done by anyone; the current version shows how the set can be performed in a chair by the elderly and the disabled. Each taiso set (there are two main ones) is about four minutes. The two sets now in use have been broadcast continuously since the 1951, and are just known as Number 1 and Number 2.
Radio taiso is taken very seriously; in 2005, the government began a series of tests to certify instructors, and many elderly people swear that the exercises keep them young.
But whether or not radio taiso truly contributes to one’s health or not, it is probably even more important in Japan as another ever-so-Japanese thing: it is an activity done as a group, one built into the national school system and society, and one that has remained for almost a century. Despite Japan having gone from a pre-industrial nation through a world war and moving into a hyper-21st century nation during that, several generations can still console themselves knowing they share something every time they hear that music.
Now, readers, everyone on their feet. It’s radio taiso time!