A couple of weekends ago we went to the swimming pool in Kanaoka Park. It’s a great facility, only open in summer, consisting of a complex of outdoor pools ranging from kiddie pools to a full-size 50 metre pool. It only costs 300 yen to go in, and you can stay as long as you like. When the air is stiflingly hot, the sun is beating down relentlessly and the ground is hot enough to burn the soles of your feet, it is a lovely feeling to slide into the water.
And then, about 30 seconds after I got in, the familiar tune started playing over the loudspeakers. The radio taisou music. And everyone dutifully got out of the pool, stood around the poolside and did the familiar movements of the radio taisou exercises. From small children to teenagers to old men, everyone joined in.
This, for me, is an example of how uncynical Japanese people are. There was no sense of “can’t be bothered” or “why do I have to get out of the pool and do calisthenics in the heat?” or “I’m too old for this”. Everyone did the exercises, did them properly, and then got back into the pool and carried on.
Radio taisou—radio calisthenics—plays every day on the radio (and now also on television), since the 1920s. The movements are not terribly demanding—you swing your arms up and down, side to side, bend to touch the ground, and so on—but they help to keep people supple and healthy throughout their lives. It is also played at the start of the working day in company offices and factories.
I took this photo at 6:30 in the morning in our local park. The schoolchildren are on their summer holiday now. I was amazed to see at 6:15 and 6:20 every morning, the boys and girls leaving their homes and making their way to the park, where they do the radio taisou exercises. Yuko explained to me that they get a stamp each day to confirm that they have attended.
Note on the word of the day:
体操 taisou means gymnastics. It’s the word that’s used, for example, for the gymnastics in the Olympics, in which Japan’s Kohei Uchimura won a gold medal with an astonishing performance. The first character 体 tai means “body” and the second, 操 sou, I’m not very familiar with, but has meanings like “control” or “manage”. rajio, of course, is just the Japanese version of the word “radio”.