Saturday, 2 September 2017

Radio Calisthenics: The Secret to a Slim, Healthy, Early-rising Population?

A morning walk with the dog (I really should do a post on pets soon!) brings me across a group of elderly people exercising in the park (right and video below). This is known as taisō, meaning calisthenics or gymnastics, ​and is written with the characters for body (体) and operate/manipulate (操). Taisō has rather a broad meaning and covers everything from professional gymnastics to everyday work-outs. However, it most commonly refers to the regular light-stretching exercises, especially in the early morning. The word is also used to refer to warm-ups at the start of school P.E. lessons and usually features at the beginning of sports days (undō-kai =運動会): the sight of hundreds of students stretching in unison and in sync is very impressive - though also a touch militaristic-looking...

Radio taisō is particularly popular and a programme is broadcast on NHK every day from 6:30-6:40 (!) which many groups make use of. It is said that around 20% of Japanese participate in some regular form of taisō which this blog claims explains why Japanese are generally slimmer and healthier than their Western counterparts! For some elementary school kids it is even part of summer homework during the holidays, with stamp cards to confirm attendance (my apartment building has a special kid's morning taisō during July before it gets really hot). This 2015 survey found that 55% of elementary schoolers participated during the summer holidays with the key benefit (?) cited as "I can get up early." This "benefit" extends to anyone within ear-shot of the workout space: I remember being rudely awakened by the sound of the radio blaring out instructions in the park behind my house very early in the morning when I first came to Japan. These days the volume seems to have been reduced in consideration of neighbours (or maybe my hearing is just getting worse?).