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4
Dec

Karaoke

Okay, so, as much as I am here to disturb the stereotypes we might have of Tokyo and Japanese culture, I have one preconceived notion I had about Japan that appears to be entirely accurate. Japanese people love karaoke!

A compound word meaning literally “empty orchestra,” karaoke in the United States is, I would say, generally considered banal without being old and unpopular though widely known. In Japan, and, I am told, throughout Asia, karaoke is beyond pervasive. Any of Tokyo’s countless entertainment districts will have at least one karaoke bar, club, or box-building. After readily acknowledging that I had to partake at least once before I left Japan, I finally got a chance to karaoke, when I piled into a glass-doored room on the fourth floor of a karaoke box-building in Jiyugaoka last week.

With a key to room 404 in my hand, I realized that I had never sung karaoke before. I don’t think I am misrepresenting American culture when I say that, karaoke isn’t an average night out. Certainly, I have seen karaoke nights at bars in Philadelphia and occasional promotions for karaoke at parties or clubs in New Jersey, but I remember always feeling that participants were most often either self-promoting singers, not good enough to sing professionally, but good enough to make everyone else feel like a jerk for singing, or over-intoxicated partiers, a drunk convinced by his friends to get on stage and make a fool out of himself.

Along with eight or nine friends, I paid 1,400 yen ($12 USD) for unlimited drinks and an hour of singing into microphones, while reading lyrics on a 42 inch television screen. I stood for the entire hour and screamed Queen’s “Fat-Bottomed Girls,” repeated Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” murmured “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and cried out some Gwen Stefani song. For the holiday season, I dueted over Mariah Carey’s version of “All I want for Christmas is you.” For my finale, out of pure love of Philadelphia, a friend and I covered Boyz II Men’s 1994 number-one hit, “I’ll Make Love to You.” It really was quite beautiful. (There are even rumors that you might be able to see a snippet of that performance in my final episode, which premieres December 15).

Of course, I only had the microphone for Queen and my epic finale, but I sang otherwise. How odd. In the United States I held nothing short of contempt for the idea of karaoke, but it was, perhaps, the most fun I had in a single hour during my time in Japan.

A Smalltime Japanese singer Inoue Daisuke invented the karaoke machine in the early 1970s. As people tend to say about silly inventions that storm through a culture, who could have known? By the 1980s almost all of Asia had embraced karaoke and near the end of the twentieth century it had made its way to the United States and soon some of Western Europe. I do think I will try karaoke when I get back to America, but, sadly, something tells me it just won’t be the same.

Jaa ne,
Christopher

Post Script: Oh, oh, oh, I almost forgot. Let us review something. It is not pronounced, “KAH-ree-o-kee,” but rather, it is, “KAH-ree-O-kay.” I try to give you as authentic an experience as I can!

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