Radio Exercise (Radio Taiso) and the Japanese summer

I'm still stuck in hospital because my wound hasn't closed up yet (if you're not squeamish, I posted a pic of it on flickr), but I am feeling a lot better and quite a bit antsy. I can't even take a walk down the hall though, since I'm tethered to the negative pressure dressing system. So, to get the circulation going in my body just a bit, I've cautiously been doing Radio Taiso, or Radio Exercise, every day, using the YouTube video here:

Radio Taiso is a Japanese cultural institution, broadcast several times a day on both television and radio by NHK, the national broadcast station. According to Wikipedia Japan (in Japanese), it started on NHK Radio in the 1920s, to promote the health and well-being of the populace. (Apparently the exercises are based on ones devised by the American Metropolitan Life Insurance Company as an advertisement for the company.) The exercises consist of simple calisthenics that can be done by anyone - the current version that is broadcast on NHK television demonstrates someone doing the exercises in a chair alongside the ones doing them standing up. Each Radio Taiso set is about 4 minutes. The two sets that have been broadcast the longest, since the 1950s, are just known as Radio Taiso Number 1 and Radio Taiso Number 2; a Number 3 was discontinued in the 1940s. The video above shows Number 1 and Number 2 done in succession.

Here's my mom and me doing Radio Taiso last summer, in Brittany of all places, when it was raining hard outside (I'm the one in the baggy blue t-shirt and black pants):


School vacation and Radio Taiso

Summer vacation in Japan is pretty short compared to other countries; for kids in the Tokyo area and much of the country, it just started this week, and lasts just until the end of August. Most Japanese families don't take a long family vacation away from home, though many do take a few days off around Obon, a period in early August when people traditionally go back to their home towns to pay respect to their ancestors. In any case, kids are kept almost as busy during summer vacation as they are when school is in session, with homework and various planned activities. (One part of summer homework is usually to keep a diary. I always forgot or just neglected to do mine when I was in elementary school, so the last couple of days of August were long diary-sessions to frantically fill in my diary with made up stuff.)

Radio Taiso is one of those activities that kids are encouraged to do during the summer. Every day, often twice a day, early in the morning and in the evening, they are gathered at a neighborhood park or somewhere and put through either Number 1 or Number 2. If they show up, they can get their attendance card stamped. Having perfect Radio Taiso attendance is considered to be a very good thing, as is going to the community or school pool every day. Adults show up for the group Radio Taiso sessions too. (Actually, outside of summertime most young people wouldn't be caught dead doing Radio Taiso in public, since it's considered to be something that only senior citizens do. But who knows, it may make a comeback for nostalgia reasons.) Here is a photo of some people doing Radio Taiso in a local park (photo credit: CookieM):


Radio Taiso has been taken up enthusiastically by companies, community groups and so on ever since its inception. The images you may have seen of docile looking Japanese factory workers all exercising together, which seems to fascinate Westerners? They were most likely doing Radio Taiso. On a darker note, Radio Taiso was exported by the Japanese Imperial Army to countries they invaded during World War II.

In any case, if for some reason you are stuck indoors this summer like me, give Radio Taiso a try - the video is in Japanese of course, but quite easy to follow anyway.

One final video: here's a parody of Radio may be a bit harder than the official ones ^_^

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