Sport and fitness

With the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 imminent, Japan is sending radio-exercise instructors overseas to instil the values of sport.

In September 2018, Emi Tamura and Akiko Aruga flew from Tokyo to Ulaanbaatar to teach a special kind of calisthenics: Radio Taiso is a three-minute series of stretches, twists, lunges and jumps performed to piano music that has been practised in Japan since the 1920s. Nearly everyone in Japan learns the Radio Taiso moves at school and knows the routine by heart.

For five days, Tamura and Aruga – both Radio Taiso instructors –and two others travelled to Mongolian schools, offices, health facilities and cultural centres. By the end of their tour they had led sessions for nearly 2,900 people. This was a grass-roots exchange: a small delegation teaching a short, simple exercise routine that other countries can adopt to keep people limber and healthy. It wasn’t the first such tour: Radio Taiso instructors have been to Brazil, Tonga, Nicaragua, Malaysia, Thailand and elsewhere.

These visits come under a Japanese government programme called Sport for Tomorrow, which aims to promote sport and its values – to 10 million people of all ages in more than 100 countries – ahead of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.

“It’s a chance for people to get together and make sure others in their community are doing all right,” says Chiyuki Kamisaka, executive board member and secretariat at Japan Radio Taiso Federation. That’s one of the key lessons: that sport can help build tighter community bonds.


In Japan, Radio Taiso owes its popularity to its simplicity: it can be done anywhere and by anyone, whether they are young or old. There are three versions in total but Dai-ichi (“the first”) is the routine that most Japanese people are familiar with. Dai-ichi, which dates back to 1951, consists of 13 movements that work up to two thirds of the body’s skeletal muscles, many of which might not otherwise be stretched on a daily basis.