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