Monday, March 25, 2013

‪Japanese Group Calisthenics? The Japanese Identity! One Time Banned Due to Militarism! ‬

The other day, I received a nice email from a writer named Mary who wanted to know the origin of a photo in a previos blog entitled: Very Sprite, Alert and Healthy 97 Year Old Guy Gives Tips for a Long Life. In that post there were photos of Yasuyuki Hashimoto. Hashimoto san was in the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II and Mary contacted me because she was interested in this photo:

It is a photo of Japanese soldiers doing group calisthenics in the field in Indonesian in 1942. That's Yasuyuki in the very front.

I told Mary that the Japanese have been doing this sort of group exercise for a very long time. They do it beginning in childhood and I think it is also a part and parcel of the Japanese identity... It goes on today at schools, corporations and many organizations. It is so ingrained into the Japanese psyche that there are even nationally broadcast TV and radio shows promoting the entire nation to wake up and exercise at the same time everyday of the week!

The radio show, in fact, started as far back as 1928 and is still going strong today. There's not a Japanese in the country that doesn't know the background music to the exercise program.

Screen capture of "Radio Taiso" still on-air today!... And probably forever! 
See? The guys in Indonesia were doing the exact same thing!

Mary mentioned that she thought this sort of group exercising was fascinating and pondered, "If the Americans did this, maybe they wouldn't be so obese?" Well, I don't know about that, but it is a very interesting contrast to the culture of Japan and the west.

As I mentioned, this sort of group calisthenics has been going on in Japan for a very long time. It does remind me of how the Japanese like to do things in groups and as a team... And, heck, what's wrong with that? It did, though, raise the hair on the back of the occupying powers after World War II who banned this broadcast because they thought it was "too militaristic"?!

Maybe Mary is right? What could possibly be wrong with having a nation of people who enjoy exercising together and, even if it is merely peer pressure, having to get off their duffs to exercise? Americans surely could use that, no?

...And, Mary, the most shocking thing about Radio Taiso, I think, was it originated in the United States! Yep. Visiting Japanese businessmen heard it in America and brought it back to Japan! Students of Japanese history know that the Japanese copied and emulated the west and especially the United States because they didn't want Japan colonized like what they saw going on in China and the rest of Asia.

Here's what Wikipedia writes about Radio Taiso:

Rajio taisō were introduced to Japan in 1928 as a commemoration of the coronation of Emperor Hirohito.[1] The idea for radio broadcast calisthenics came from the US, where during the 1920s the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. sponsored 15-minute radio calisthenics in major cities in the US. 

Visiting employees of the Japanese postal insurance division brought samples of the exercises from the US back to Japan.[1] The exercises were widely used to improve the health of Japanese soldiers both at home and abroad during the 1930s and 1940s. The exercises were introduced to several other pacific nations, including Taiwan, Hong Kong and Indonesia during Japan's colonization period.

After Japan's defeat in 1945, the broadcasts were banned by the occupying powers as being too militaristic in nature.

Today's on-air calisthenics include light exercises for the physically handicapped and older folks in an very quickly aging society

After several rewrites to the exercise routine, it was reintroduced by NHK radio in 1951 with the support of the education ministry, health ministry, the Japan Gymnastic Association and the Japan Recreation Association.[1]

Current status
Radio taisō is still used at schools as a warm up for physical education classes, during sports day activities, and by some companies as a way of building morale and a sense of group unity, as well as to raise energy levels and encourage good health.[2]

This post is dedicated to my friend, 
Mary Cronk Farrell 
Author of books for Children and Young Adults


Mary said...

Thanks, Mike! I find this very interesting. Especially how it was in, out and in again. So it's probably not just the fish, rice and vegetable diet that makes the Japanese so healthy!

Anonymous said...

It's the many sugars and the carbs that are in just about all prepared foods that make Americans so fat.

Everyday and all day they eat them.

They do have exersize programs on the TV in the mornings in the unitedstate, even back when the broadcast was analog.

I've known many many Americans that spend a great amount of time working out and/or working hard yet they remained overweight.
Ancedotal I know, yet it seems to apply to so many. Especially the farmers I know of who worked very hard all their lives, yet they were fat as a tuba.

That's my view from here, anyway.

Also, That was an interesting photo.

- IndividualAudienceMember

Anonymous said...

In the interest of learning (I would say, 'in the interest of science', but science these days seems like a sham) I'll add this:

For a number of Summers I spent every weekday morning and every weekday afternoon doing what were called 'two-a-days'.
The whole team did this workout. First they did extensive stretching followed by running and sprinting then it was off into the weight-lifting room.
It was exhausting.
Yet I think I lost all of two pounds doing this.

That experience tells me: it wasn't the lack of exercise which prevented or maintained fat around the middle - in some cases there were guys who actually gained weight - it was the same as with the farmers above. There was something else involved.

The last year or so I've been doing variations of the Primal/Paleo diet, often only 80-20 though (homemade biscuits are my weakness, about the same amount per day as someone in Asia might have of carbohydrates such as rice, give or take a few beers) and the fat is just melting off me like it's never done before. And I have not been working out. Well, very very little. Not enough to count much anyway.
The same is basically true for my wife, but she is 95% - 99% Paleo. The drawback is, other guys have been noticing her a bit too much now, I may have to fatten her up. Heh, just kidding, about the fattening up part.

Whenever I see or hear of someone saying fat people just need to work out to get into better shape I'm reminded of all that, and of the self-described Hot-Heads I knew and had as friends long ago.

Hot-heads are the type that religiously go to a weight-lifting gym everyday while trying to look uber-cool.

I took a few of those Hot-Heads to two secret fishing holes I knew of a couple of times. (They were all skinny fellas, not a pot-belly on one.) The only land access was down a deer trail which weaved through some fairly rough terrain or down a very steep hill, it wasn't easy to get there and back, but at the same time, I never had any difficulty getting there, or back up the hill. I mean, I wasn't winded after the walk, or sore, or tired or anything, even though I carried a bunch of fishing gear.
I worked with farmers then, and ate food fresh from a garden, perhaps that was my secret for stamina? I still had too many carbs and sugars though. The Hot-Heads on the other hand were exhausted. They complained the whole time like children: "Are we there yet?" or "How much further?" and "Can we stop and rest?"

I used to think it was because they were city boys. After-all; they were so afraid of the large eel I caught that they didn't want to ride home in the truck with it so I had to let it go. One guy was even afraid the worm on the hook was going to bite him as he re-baited the hook. He kept flinching and pulling his hand away every time the worm turned towards his fingers. Too funny.


Anonymous said...

I think part of the reason they were afraid of the eel is because they'd never seen one before? And it was a big one! I had to run upstream to keep the slack out of the line as the eel swam against the current. By the time the eel came to shore I was far away from the Hot-Heads as they shone a flashlight on the water while excitedly trying to figure out what exactly it was I was sending right at them from out of a very dark night mixed with beer.
I could hear them shout: "It's a huge flathead catfish... wait! It's a turtle!" and, "No! it's a snake!" then, "Oh Shit! I don't know WHAT that is!"

I reeled in the slack in the line as fast as I could while maintaining tension as I walked downstream to meet them and pull my prize out of the water and throw it onto the bank. As the Hot-Heads gathered round my prize in the grass to see what it was, the eel started hissing at them, and then my disappointment set in as they said there was, "No Way!" that thing was riding in the truck with them. The humor of the situation off-set the disappointment though.

It was easy then to think the reason they couldn't hack the walk was due to them being city boys.
It certainly wasn't because they didn't work out and exercise often or because they were fat. None of that applied.
Now I know. Er, I think I know, anyway; the why.
YMMV I guess?

Pardon my fishing story. Hope I didn't bore you, it's been a long time since I got to tell that story. It was fun just thinking about the look on their faces. Priceless.
I think that was the last time they went fishing with me.

Also, to clarify from my first comment, 'fat as a tuba' is kind of like, 'fit as a fiddle' only it's fat with quite a bit fit too, somewhat. I just made it up though. As if it matters?

Now I'm off to finish reading, Rats: your guide to protecting yourself against snitches, informers, informants, agents provocateurs, narcs, finks, and similar vermin.

Find it at

It's free.

"This book is for you if ...

You are a non-violent person engaged in any activity that may be controversial, illegal, or merely "sensitive" or unconventional. These days, anything out of the ordinary can make you a target.

Some people who could use this book:

* Anti-war or environmental activists
* Recreational drug users
* Participants in the underground economy or anybody who does business in cash
* Critics of local or national powers-that-be
* Anyone whose profession involves "sensitive" information or activities
* Gun owners or dealers
* Third-party or "fringe" political activists
* Hobbyists who work with dangerous materials
* Photographers/videographers
* Religious dissidents
* People with offshore or unconventional investments (including perfectly legitimate ones)

It doesn't matter where you fall in the political spectrum or even if you're apolitical. If police might target you or your activities, you need to understand how snitches could mess up your life."

- IndividualAudienceMember

Andy "In Japan" said...

Hot summer mornings and radio taiso go together glove in hand. It's a pleasant way to start the day and this sort of movement is a great way to get the blood flowing.

That said, there is no way that radio taiso exercise explains the relative thinness of Japanese people versus the fatness of Americans. By my estimate, one radio taiso "workout" will consume about 1/4 of a bite of doughnut worth of calories.

Over consumption of processed foods, genetically modified wheat, sodas and junk food are probably the main culprits.

mike in tokyo rogers said...

Thanks I.A.M.!
Great story. I would have loved to go fishing with you to the secret fishing hole. I used to have one of those and I wonder if the guys I took there (who also complained constantly) were blood relatives to your friends... Gee, guys, if it was easy to access, then it wouldn't be a good fishing hole anymore... Weird how that works out, isn't it?
Love the Paleo too! Yesterday I had a half bowl of rice for the first time in 2 months.... Back to the raw veggies and grilled meats and fish today!
Thanks for writing. You can write about fishing anytime you like. I dream about fishing! I went fishing off the rocks in my secret hole along the California Coast about 15 minutes drive from Camarillo. It was a 5 minute quite hairy climb down the rocks but the fishing was awesome and there was never anyone else there (maybe it was too dangerous climbing down and back up and they were too smart and I was too fishing crazy!)... I got so good at it that I knew just by the way the weather conditions (direction of wind, temperature, tides, etc) were if I would catch a lot of fish or not (but, you being a pro yourself, you already know that!)

I love fishing. I dream about fishing.... In fact, I dreamt about trout fishing in Oregon last night (seriously!) Here’s a humorous article I wrote on Lew Rockwell that mentions how I had a major gout attack and could hardly walk, yet that didn’t deter me from fishing:

Anonymous said...

Funny, especially this part: "Gee, guys, if it was easy to access, then it wouldn't be a good fishing hole anymore..."

Yes, our old friends do sound related.

Rocky areas here are rare, when I did fish them though, they were supreme. About equal to secluded sand bar fishing for stripped bass.

I imagine that with the rock area in California you didn't have to worry about snakes. I had trouble with them a number of times when I fished a rocky spot.
Snakes lose their fear of people when they get hungry.

I tried fishing what they called a river in California, it was what we call a stream or a creek here.

Odd thing while fishing that "river" in California, I met a guy from the town next to mine here and got to be friends.

I thought it was odd anyway.

I've never fished for trout. I've had some freshly caught before, they are a lot better than store bought ones. I wonder how much of a fight a trout puts up? The same as a bluegill, maybe?

I'm having trouble visualizing you as a fly casting fisherman. I imagine you used a spinning reel and lures instead of flies.

Also, that URL was really funny too, and interesting.

Thinking about all this fishing almost makes me want to go out and buy a fishing license this year.

...Hmm, I've never done any outlaw fishing before (fishing without a license) maybe I should?

- IndividualAudienceMember

Anonymous said...

One final comment for this thread:

Off and on all day I've been wondering what you caught in the ocean and what did you use as bait/lure?

I always wanted to fish the ocean successfully - from the shore - I'm a victim of watching Jaws.
I gave it a shot once, but I didn't know what I was doing, and got no bites.

I saw some guys in Florida wading in the ocean chest deep (one story was, they were catching 300lb groupers! Wow.) that seemed like a great method, but I'm not certain I have the fortitude to do that, especially with a live bait canister floating next to me! [Jaws music plays].
Hmm, suddenly I now know how some of my friends perceived me as I did the same in murky waters here, or when I caught the eel. Ha!

Also, I kept thinking about how Yasuyuki Hashimoto's generation had the gift of more numerous opportunities of quality fishing spots and how great they must have been.
The tragedy of the commons hadn't set in so much then and I can just picture him, or someone like him, tying a string on a branch and catching ultra-colorful fish like they have in Florida. And he probably didn't even have to worry about a DNR officer hassling him for his license on the Fourth of July (or equivalent type date)... that happened to me too many times.
It just irked me to no end to have a DNR officer demand my papers and demand to look through my tackle box as if it were his! And on the Fourth of July of all days! ... Oh, sorry, I digress.

Anyway, thanks for the complement of calling me a pro. I'm no pro, I'm just pretty good, in freshwater that is.

- IndividualAudienceMember