Photo/IllutrationA "rajio taiso" gathering in Nagoya (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The other day, I attended an exercise event organized by an association to promote “rajio taiso” (radio gymnastic exercises) in the city of Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture.

Rajio taiso is a popular free exercise class conducted to music and instructions aired on a Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) radio program every morning.

The instructions for the No. 1 set of the radio exercises start with the phrase, “Swing your arms forward and then raise them upward to straighten your back.”

In the event, which started at 6:30 a.m., I joined some 200 local people, ranging from infants to elders, to get some good physical exercise while inhaling a lot of fresh morning air.

For 40 years, the association has been holding the event every morning, even during the Bon and New Year holidays and on stormy days.

The event originated in the daily exercises started by Takumi Iida, the 76-year-old owner of a fruit and vegetable shop in the city, with the other three members of his family.

After getting hit by a car when he was 20, Iida’s left leg became paralyzed. He started the daily exercises before morning purchases to stock items in his store as rehabilitation to regain the ability to walk.

People in his neighborhood gradually joined the family in the exercises.

Rajio taiso has a long history. The program was introduced in 1928 as a commemoration of the coronation of Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa. During World War II, the program was promoted as a means to boost national morale under the slogan of “mobilization of the national spirit.”

After the end of the war, the occupying authorities ordered a ban on the program, which was seen as the militarist Japan’s attempt to mobilize 3 million people as one body.

But the program was restarted with completely new calisthenics and accompanying music.

“It is an important element that makes my life meaningful,” Iida said. “Many people have recovered from a grave illness because they have continued the daily exercises.”

Another reason to attend the event is ginger tea specially made by Iida.

Commendations for perfect attendance also help keep attendants motivated.

Last year, seven people attended the event each of the 366 days without a single absence.

As the end of July is drawing near, rajio taiso gatherings are now held at such places as schoolyards and public squares across the nation.

I hadn’t done the exercises for a long time. As soon as I heard the starting piano melody, however, my body began to move automatically, to my great surprise.

People attending rajio taiso events are not expected to do the exercises with strict discipline for perfect coordination. They just move their bodies according to their own physical strength and their moods.

Not overdoing it is probably the key to continuing the exercises for a long period of time.

The exercises in the event I attended, of course, ended with the familiar movement for deep breathing, with the instructor saying, “Inhale deeply and then exhale, five six, seven, eight.”

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 21

* * *

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.