A short exercise routine broadcast daily on Japan’s national radio, “Rajio taiso”, or radio calisthenics is followed in parks and schools every day  sometimes several times a day by all generations of Japanese people which can be streamed on YouTube.

Rajio taiso has three routines. The first which in Japan are most familiar with is “dai-ichi”. This routine is taught from a young age in school and is designed to be accessible to anyone. This is followed by the second form, “dai-ni”, and the third, “dai-san”, aimed at younger crowds with increased physical activity.

Only the momentum and your own body weight is what Rajio taiso encourages, without using any equipment. Planting your feet in one spot, shoulder-width apart is mostly required for the three minute exercise. Office workers, school children, the young and the elderly will find it ideal to perform from behind desks, in groups, at the park, at home, basically anywhere.

13 movements makes up Dai-ichi and begins with gentle raising of the arms above the head. Arms are crossed across the chest and swung down like pendulums until they finish outstretched either side in the second movement. A gentle bob of the knees then accompanies the movement though it doesn’t break a sweat.

Exercisers move on to modest star jumps with music in movement 11. This is the most rigorous part of the routine. Repeat steps one and two to allow for some time to cool down for the last two movements.

“The great thing about rajio taiso is to be able to activate the entire body if you go through the whole exercise” says Arisa Oshimi.

Though the routines’ origins can be traced back to a public health initiative in the US, Rajio taiso is the key to their longevity according to some people.

Local radio stations in six US cities broadcast 15-minute long exercise routines in the 1920s, which is accompanied by a pianist. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company sponsored these slots and radio calisthenics was born.

The outlook for Japanese people at this time was not great however. 42 years was the average life expectancy back in 1920, as tuberculosis was rampant.

Two representatives from Japan’s health insurance bureau of the post office were concerned on how to improve public health, visited Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and took home the idea of daily exercise broadcasts as they were impressed with the routines.

Rajio taiso was launched en masse by the mid-20s. All 20,000 of the workers at the national postal service performed the routines on the streets each morning, pausing their rounds as the radio show began to teach the routines. Rajio taiso has been broadcast every day since then, stopping briefly after WWII to change some militaristic movements.

“I would not feel comfortable standing up abruptly and doing a stretch at work by myself. But when we all do it together, I don’t feel shy” says Michiaki Araki.

If you ask a Japanese adult how they spent their summer holidays as a child, many will reply that they are synonymous with the routines as Rajio taiso is instilled in school children from an early age.

The children would wake up early with their attendance card in hand, and complete the routines in neighbourhood groups. After a student takes part in one of the early morning routines, the cards are stamped with prizes handed out for those children who complete a perfect card.

The cards themselves date back in the 1920s and were designed to get children to attend school on time, rather than sleep late. “Hayaokikai”, or “early-riser meetings” were given stamps to prove that the students had attended school in the morning.

According to the Japanese government, “as many as 30 million copies of the attendance cards were printed, which had a substantial impact on the spread of the exercises”.

By Aaron
20th June 16:55

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