While we’re on the topic of Japanese music, we might as well discuss karaoke.
Man. Is it ever a thing here.
Karaoke is the go-to activity in Japan in the same way that going for a drink is the go-to activity in Australia. Bored? Karaoke. It’s your birthday? Karaoke. Date? Karaoke. Bar’s closing? ALL NIGHT KARAOKE.
The set-up is pretty inviting, to be fair: there are always these little rooms with padded, vinyl-covered seats around a few tables in the middle, often with lights that flash when songs are playing, and a phone on the wall that you use to order food and drink to your heart’s content. They bring it right to your room for you, so you can have your karaage delivered while you’re still belting out Kobukuro‘s greatest hits (lord have mercy – if I never hear another Kobukuro song, it will be too soon).
Happily enough, it’s not a talent contest – sure, people will be impressed if you can do ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You’ in a passable Olivia Newton-John impression (THANK YOU, I WAS IN A BAND), but no one gives a shit if you’re a tone-deaf salary man with your heart set on ‘Alejandro’.
More importantly, karaoke has been the source of most of my exposure to Japanese music. They keep the crappy MIDI backing tracks rolling in pretty regularly, so you can basically sing whatever’s on the radio. Thus I’ve met The Blue Hearts, Remioromen (sorry), 9mm Parabellum Bullet, my favourite Korean popstar Taeyang, and Radwimps, seen above. (I also really dig Rin Toshite Shigure but no one’s game enough to attempt them with me, god damn it.)
Karaoke’s also the great equaliser. The coolest of cool Harajuku-stalking Comme des Garcons-wearing Japanese kids will happily crow the entirety of ‘A Whole New World’ in front of their entire peer group, possibly while shaking a plastic maraca. Yeah, you can prise this microphone from my cold, dead hands; I have another round of ‘Just A Girl’ to lead.