Published: November 24th 2008November 24th 2008
Nothing brings people together like karaoke
In a previous episode, I exposed the wonderful, efficient, and classy world of Japan’s capsule hotel industry. I found myself asking the question: Why aren’t these in America? This week, I will be delving into the underground society of guilty pleasure…aka KARAOKE!!!
First off, I know what you’re thinking, and yes I do know that there are karaoke bars and other opportunities to sing your favorite song off-key in America. I’m here to tell you that no one takes karaoke more seriously than the Japanese. Every town bigger than my own has a karaoke place (I’m struggling to find the word to describe the venue…Karaoke “Bar” does not do it justice. I’m settling on Karaoke Heaven). They are usually multi-storied complexes, nicely decorated (yet cheesy), and featuring rooms of various sizes. Your typical karaoke room is deep and narrow, with two booth-style seats separated by a long table. At the end of the table is the T.V./Karaoke machine that makes the magic happen.
From here, the process is quite simple. When you are renting the room, you decide on whether you’ll do a two-hour “nomi-hodai” (all you can drink), or just pay by the drink. Assuming you do
Feel free to belt it out!
the right thing and go for “nomi-hodai”, you enter your room, pick up the phone that calls the bar, and order as many beers/cocktails as humanly possible. While you wait for the waitress, you dive for the songbook and key in your go-to selection. I’ll explain.
Karaoke veterans have their “favorites” already picked out. The more you do karaoke, the more you discover new songs that fit your range, are crowd-pleasers, emit nostalgia, etc. These songs then become “YOUR KARAOKE SONGS” and every karaoke veteran has at least one. First timers have it the roughest. For them, there is the understandable anxiety that comes with singing in front of karaoke veterans that you probably don’t know very well yet. Remember, these vets have long since lost their karaoke inhibitions and forget that some people aren’t used to singing Pop songs in front of others or in a place that’s not the shower. And, there are simply too many songs to choose from. Seriously, name nearly any song of nearly any genre, and it is probably available to sing. The selection is just too overwhelming to choose from if you don’t know what you’re looking for. As I told a
I think I'm a Superstar!
first timer the other night, who was feeling very nervous, the first time is always the hardest. It all gets better from there.
I felt all these emotions my first time doing karaoke. It was Day Two of our Tokyo Orientation and we went out with the other new Kagawa JETs. I actually waited for a good hour (letting the beer dull the nerves a bit) before finally deciding to rip Justin Timberlake’s “Summer Love”. Great success. Once the first song was out of the way, it was tough to get me off the mic.
So here are some of my karaoke songs. Remember that none of these would ever have been on my radar before coming to Japan. They are: George Michael “Freedom ‘90”, Marvin Gaye “Stubborn Kind of Fellow”, Michael Jackson “P.Y.T.”, and Backstreet Boys “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)”. The reason? They just are.
The best part of it all is that karaoke can be a very complex psychological entity. It’s actually a team sport more than an individual exercise. Obviously, the main objective of karaoke is for everyone to have a good time (and get smashed). Since the only variables are the songs chosen and
Get the team involved
You don't need a mic in your hand to enjoy karaoke!
the singers that choose them, it is vital that those song choices contribute to the success of the evening. In fact, allow me to make a sports comparison, in this case the NBA. On every NBA team, you have your All-Stars, your team-players, your aging past-his-prime former Star, and the scrubs. Of course, some teams are more successful than others (WORLD CHAMPION BOSTON CELTICS!!!). Some teams are carried to relative success by one or two Superstars (like the Cavs or Hornets). Some teams are carried by a combo of unselfish talent and team-players (Celtics, Spurs). Some are brought down by selfish players that think they’re better than they are (Knicks, Clippers). In karaoke, you need a similar type of mixture, and you have to gauge the chemistry in order to make it work. You have your superstars (ahem…yours truly…) your contributing team members, and occasionally the player that is only out for his/her box score line. The superstars and team players know which songs to choose, the ones everybody will enjoy/sing along to/fit the mood, while the selfish ones choose the songs only he/she likes or knows. I’m telling you, this is all crucial to the team’s success! Fortunately, every time I’ve done karaoke, the team has won the championship!
It’s not hard to see why karaoke is so popular in Japan (and it really is popular). I just hope that, by some miracle, the U.S. has caught on and expanded its karaoke options by the time I get back. Seriously, why aren’t these in America?!