Little House In Ise


Karaoke in the 80s
October 21, 2007, 15:01
Filed under: Expat, Family, Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My son heard me singing in the shower the other day and politely asked me to stop. He was both irritated by the racket and a bit embarrassed that the neighbors might hear. As most devoted, loving fathers know, moments like this are the best times to yank your kid’s chains… so I kept singing and maybe even turned it up a bit. Who doesn’t like a little Gregorian chant in the shower? Anyway, as most complaints about my singing do, the incident reminded me of my introduction karaoke* when I first came to Japan back in the 80s …

The place was a bar with a small central stage. To get to the stage singers walked through a small cluster of tables filled with enthusiastic groups of patrons who all seemed to be having a great time. There was a slight hush when my group came in, gaijin weren’t that common in Tokushima then and I was apparently taken for a ringer. I’ve noticed that many Japanese people tend to assume that I because I speak English that I should be able to sing music in English too. It’s a common mistake that, at the time, I didn’t know I should correct. After a moment or two the room perked back up and it was back to business as usual. The very cool cowboy-entering-a-saloon feeling didn’t fade until I was urged to pick a tune out of a book and sing. Actually, I was pushed. Song list books were repeatedly offered to me with encouragement to go up on stage.

The books alone were intimidating! They were telephone-book sized, shredded, monstrosities written mostly in Japanese. Thankfully, the small list of foreign songs included Beatles tunes. I later learned that the Beatles are a staple of the foreign language section of karaoke song lists. My extended family is very musical and singing contests used to be a way that we would express our musicality. I say “we” only because I’m part of the family not because I’m a singer. In fact, if a form of mental retardation that only affects musical skills is discovered, I’ll go in for a test. At any rate, Beatles songs — usually “Yesterday” — were often used in family competitions so, if there is any non-Christmas carol that I can claim to know, it is “Yesterday”. I found the appropriate song number, wrote it on a scrap of paper and passed it to the bar master. I think I started drinking heavily at this point but don’t remember clearly because of all the heavy drinking.

My turn came and the place quieted down as I walked up. Usually, the crowd kept on laughing and talking as singers took their turns on stage but not this time. The crowd was genuinely looking forward to hearing me sing… naifs. After pouring my heart and soul out there was an awkward silence. Before the silence was broken by the start of next song I overheard someone saying “Maybe he’s never heard it before”…

On the positive side, no one tried to force me to sing again that evening. 🙂

* カラオケ = “kah rah oh keh” NOT “kareeOkee” as most Americans seem to prefer.

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4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Your vinette made me smile. Well written!

Comment by Kym

Thanks kym!

Comment by Eric Holcomb

Oh Eric, too hilarious!! Too bad, we should have gone to a kah-rah-oh-keh bar when I was there. Could have been as fun as the Sushi bar.

Comment by Marcus Chavez

[…] the scene of multiple crimes against the Japanese language. Luckily for all present, there was no karaoke […]

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