Karaoke!

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One of the great cultural contributions from Japan is karaoke. It’s different here than in America and the UK (the two other places I’ve sung karaoke). First of all, instead of one big open room, usually a bar full of strangers, you rent a room by the half hour with just your friends.

Back in Oregon, my friends and I would drive over to the bar in the Red Lion Inn. I usually went with my buddies, Gil and Jerry, and whoever else wanted to tag along. We’d submit a request for a song to the DJ. And then perhaps 30 minutes to an hour later she’d call us up and we’d sing for the whole room. If we were lucky we’d sing two, maybe three, songs each by the end of the night. The DJ would make wisecracks and only Jerry would sound decent.

I was always surprised at how many people took karaoke seriously. The regulars would have one or two songs that they had perfected and that’d be their shining moment of glory.

In Japanese karaoke places, you can sing all the songs you want with people you know in your own private room. And many places serve decent food that’s delivered to your room. Some of the rooms are just bare bones. But most are well-decorated, plush and even swanky. At my last birthday party, we went to a karaoke place that had a shallow pool of warm water under the table for a nice relaxing footbath. All these places have a decent selection of English songs.

During the day, the rates can be quite cheap. There’s one place near my work that charges 50 yen per 30 minutes before 5pm. In the evenings the rates increase to 300 yen per half hour per person. If you miss the last train, a few thousand yen will get you a room from late night to early morning.

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After a while I’ve found that karaoke participants fall into a few types.

The Speed Dialer programs several songs in a row so that we have a solid half hour of just them singing. This is poor karaoke etiquette. However, this is a good time to eat all the food and chit chat with everyone else. Afterwards, it’s best to hide the remote control from them.

The Sneak Attack repeatedly says to everyone that they can’t sing. Their voice is awful. They’re tone deaf. They don’t know any songs. Then all of a sudden their song comes up and they sing beautifully, knocking everyone’s socks off.

The Smooth Operator sounds good. Everyone shuts up and listens. They even get requests.

The Screecher means well. They’re enthusiastic. They put on their song and belt it out. They mistake volume for skill. This is a good time to go to the bathroom. If you can discreetly turn down their mic volume, by all means do it.

The Encroacher will pick up the other mic and join you in your song. Sometimes it’s good, mostly they just sing over you. I’m afraid I belong in this category. For the Encroacher, it’s a good way to increase singing time while not appearing to be a Speed Dialer.

The Premature Evacuator. Halfway through their song, they give up, and either hand the mic over to someone else to finish it or they stop the song.

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These are just caricatures of course. Most of us fall into several of these types at one time or another. Most people have decent voices and pick interesting songs. To maximize your karaoke experience, I like to follow these guidelines:

• Put in one song at a time. Two max.

• Sing a few songs you’ve never tried before.

• Every now and then include songs that everyone knows and can join in on

• Sing duets with people you’ve never sung with.

• And most importantly, sing your heart out and always applaud after every song.