Kah Rah OK?

As you are probably aware, the word “karaoke” is a loan-word from Japanese. We pronounce this word incorrectly as ‘carry-okie’, not ‘kah-rah-oh-kay” as it is pronounced here.
I’ve had the chance to do it twice here, once in a tiny bar in Sapporo, and once in what I will call a karaoke mega-complex. Although you can find places with karaoke machines at them, it is not very common. In the case of the bar in Sapporo, it was the owner’s attempt to prevent his customers from leaving and going to the mega-complex half a block away.
Back home, karaoke is done in front of everyone at the venue, this appeals to those who want to show off to others, while causing shyer people to avoid the activity entirely.
In Japan, you decide with your friends to go to a mega-complex. Once there, you rent a room and typically get free drinks as long as you stay. This is to say that you pay once price for free soft drinks, and a higher price for free booze. The room is rented by the hour per person, or, as in our case, if you show up after 11pm, you get the room for a flat rate. We stayed until 4:30am.
If you can drink a lot, the free booze rate is quite economical. In our case, several of our members were on tight budgets, so we opted for the soft option at a place which offered free softserve ice cream. As one of the guys said: “They’ll rue the day! [they made that deal]” We plundered the icecream machine and probably consumed more ice cream during our visit than was consumed that day (some of us didn’t have any dinner).
The selection of English songs is pretty thin, so we were pretty much down to Hank Williams and Frank Sanatra by the time we left. Basically, the only English songs they have are ones which managed to cross the Pacific, and while this give an interesting insight into the collective minds of the Japanese, it means that half the songs you know are not available.
One thing I will say is that the Japanese are amazing singers. Think about it this way; if there are four mega-complexes within a block of each other, and each one is at least 4 floors with probably 20 rooms a floor, there must be a whole lot of demand for the activity. At the tiny bar in Sapporo, a rather tipsy elderly lady belted out an amazing redition of a traditional song which drew applause and crys of “segoi!” (amazing) from the other Japanese in the bar.
The song selection is also pretty impressive, the biggest karaoke bars back home have a series of xeroxed pages maybe a quarter inch thick. The Japanese book in our room was thicker than most phone books, at nearly four inches.
I think that the culture of just singing in front of your friends allows more people to practice and become better singers, without the risk of embarasment.

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