Karaoke: Singing Your Heart Out in a Little Box

May 3, 2007 at 3:30 pm

There are two things Japanese people love to do on the weekend: drink and karaoke. Not that they’re all particularly excellent singers. It’s just fun to gather with friends and exercise those vocal cords.

Here in America, we have dive bars where fellow strangers make unabashed attempts at Pat Benatar, swaying from side to side with their eyes shut as if to say, “Hey, I know the lyrics by heart. I’m that good.”


Then there’s Japan, which puts its crooners into small, private rooms called “karaoke bokkusu.” (It’s the Japan-ified word for “box.”) Using a remote control, they request their favorite J-Pop songs from a list of thousands. The remote tends to be a huge keypad in which you can adjust the not only the volume but the pitch, tempo and whether or not you want background vocals to assist you. Some even allow for some gender-bending, altering the sound of your voice from male to female or vice versa.

But apart from cool karaoke technology, packing yourself into a room full of inebriated Japanese people can prove entertaining in itself. The general etiquette is to let one person sing but if it’s one of those universally nostalgic songs then the entire room will break into chorus like they’ve convened for “Hands Across America.” In every group you’ll also get a comedian or two who will open with a little improv or celebrity impersonation. One karaoke buddy of mine would go around the room shaking everyone’s hand as if he was running for office. And then there was another one who did a mean impression of Michael Jackson, right down to his ear-piercing shriek. I was the master of Madonna. I’m tone-deaf as heck, but they were always amazed by my English singing skills. “Years and years of practice,” I tell them. (^_<)

Just when the mood starts to mellow, a waitress comes in with round of beer. Yes, there’s a full drink menu at karaoke boxes. You can even smoke in the room. Though I’m the first to stare down anyone who so as much as strikes a match. Hey, my vocal cords are precious! Gotta keep them in tip-top shape for my next rendition of “Material Girl.” (^_^)/


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Entry filed under: Japanese Culture, Japanese Entertainment.

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