One lovely Spring day when I was teaching in Japan, I had planned an awesome lesson for my first graders – the cute little kids who had just graduated from elementary school and come to our junior high school. I told my team teacher about my awesome plan, but she replied that there would be no English lessons – or in fact any lessons that week, while the first graders learn “radio taiso”.
She told me to go spy in the sports hall to see this radio taiso in action – what I found was rows and rows of the children waving their arms about while a recording of a guy counted and lead them on. One of the PE teachers was walking round them, shouting at them to make more of an effort while they were doing so.
Radio taiso is a set of movements that is printed into the brain of all Japanese people. The routine was brought to Japan in 1928 after some Japanese people went over to the US and found people doing a warm-up routine to a voice on the radio. It was used heavily during the war to keep the soldiers fit, but after Japan lost the war they weren’t allowed to do it for a while due to it being pretty military-tastic. In the 50s they brought it back, though, and now the routine is used in schools as well as in a lot of workplaces in Japan, and Japan-related groups abroad.
The first time I saw the radio taiso for real was at the sports day at the school. I turned to my coworker and said that it’s what I imagine North Korean students to be doing – it is pretty hardcore. But of course, it’s nothing more than a set routine that must be perfectly performed by all.
This is what the routine looks like:
Last week at work, the company magazine for the Japanese expats came through with a whole double page spread dedicated to the routine. I asked my colleagues if they had to do radio taiso in the Japan HQ – and apparently they do, at 3pm every day. Can you imagine having to do this every day?
However, there is a video that I always like to go back to – Obvious Exercises [atari mae taiso]. This sketch was made by some Japanese comedians and I think it’s pretty funny and a great example of Japanese comedy. See below for my explanation:
If you put your right leg out, then put your left leg out… You can walk!
If you bend both of your knees together… You can sit!
If you bend your wrist out in front of you a few times… Someone will come! [In Japan this is the “come here” gesture]
If someone comes but they get too close… You’ll get angry!
If you make your move a bit late when playing “rock, paper, scissors”… You will win!
If you bend your knees to knock someone in front’s knees… Their knees will also bend!
If you pinch, it hurts
If you crouch, you’re low
Farts are stinky
I want money
If you change from your skinny jeans to jogging bottoms, it makes this a lot easier!
If we were to make obvious exercises, what should we do?!