Every morning in Japan, before heading off to school, sparse piano music would tinkle lightly from the radio coupled with an incongruent bold voice counting: “Ich! Ni! San! Shi!” It was odd. An old world sound that eventually would prove quite comforting, as though this program had existed for over fifty years. It had. This is Radio Taiso, the 6:30am morning radio exercises in Japan. Radio Taiso is an integral, if not widely known, part of Japanese culture.
The first pop-culture American descripton of Radio Taiso that comes to mind is the 1986 Michael Keaton movie “Gung Ho”, which really is just wrong. The title “Gung Ho” is a Chinese derived phrase, yet the movie premise centers on culture clashes between Japanese and Americans at an auto plant. This aside, at one point in the movie we witness automaker employees doing the morning exercises together. The American employees get freaked, as they would of course, by this large group fitness act.
Funny thing is, just like the automobile industry, the morning radio exercises started in the United States. Exercises on Japan’s NHK radio go as far back as 1928, but the idea for these exercises came to Japan by way of America, specifically from the American health insurance industry. In the 1920’s Met Life in would sponsor 15 minute exercise radio broadcasts in major cities throughout the country, helping people stay fit. As is historically fitting, Japan took the idea and made it work really well, helping lengthen their population’s lifespan, from age 40 in the 1920’s to 80 today. In fact, Japan has the highest population of seniors in the world.
During World War II and the Allies occupation, Radio Taiso was banned for seeming too militaristic, with large groups gathering to exercise together in unison. In the 1950’s they reemerged, and are still going strong to this day. Children go to the local park in the summer, office workers gather together outside the office with loud speakers, and the older populations will turn on the radio and go along as they have for decades, starting their day with these routine exercises, to help build strength, work ethic, and unity within the community.
There are two sets of exercises, the second being geared more towards young people. The simple calisthenics promote increased energy, circulation, and improved flexibility. Go ahead and give it a try…
I’m gonna take the leap – going “ganbatte” vs. going “gung ho” – and suggest the United States take back Radio Taiso and broadcast a national morning exercise program, helping to build health, well being, and community….just change the music, please. Maybe a radio taiso mash up with special guest djs? It’d be like a new electric slide for fitness. Ok. I might have leapt too far…