The rock gods descend from Olympus

There was a bridge I always knew I would have to cross at some point in Japan. I’ve held out for just over two months, but the moment arrived on the weekend. I have now karaoke’d.

I’m not really a singing kinda guy, but from all accounts here, it’s not so much about being good – rather, it’s about having a go. Karaoke is huge in Japan, the first clue being that it’s a Japanese word. Literally translated it means “because you might sound much better after two pints” (maybe).

You can’t go far without seeing signs about karaoke places plastered everywhere. One of the most visible chains is Big Echo – just about everywhere I’ve been in Tokyo so far has one of these in easy walking distance. Apparently, they’re also a popular place to stay until sunrise if you have the misfortune of missing the last train and don’t want to fork out for a massive cab fare.

There’s one big factor that saved me from my karaoke nightmare imaginings. In many of the popular karaoke places in Japan, you’re not performing in front of a big room of strangers. Instead, you have a small, private room with just you, your friends and someone who pops in occasionally to serve drinks. The other thing that made it less terrifying is that everybody usually joined in with all the songs they knew, so the person with the microphone was just the nominal band leader rather than a warbling soloist.

The room I was in was very cool – it had lasers, UV lights, weird glow-in-the dark pictures of Amazonian women and scary-looking eagles. All the things you need to accompany some singing.

As the lyrics scroll across the screen, tranquil stock film of famous cities pans across the background. Or, sometimes live footage of the band’s song would play.

In retrospect, there’s something a little bit 1984 about hypnotic images with scrolling text. Or maybe it’s just that there’s just a touch too much HAL in those lights for me.

You can queue songs on a handy wireless console with a massive database of songs. It’s a very professional operation. One tip though – remember which room number you’re in. It won’t do to burst in on a room full of tipsy businessmen and demand to know which smart guy picked “My Heart Will Go On“.

So to summarise – it was great. And what did I sing? Firstly, “Land Down Under” (it’s in the constitution). Have you ever actually read those lyrics? “I come from a land down under / Where beer does flow and men chunder”? Wow. Luckily, it has a raging flute solo to make up for this.

And then, “Bohemian Rhapsody“.


4 thoughts on “The rock gods descend from Olympus

  1. Don’t worry – the resulting headache from the head banging part in Bohemian Rhapsody is penance enough for your karaoke crime. You did do the head banging, didn’t you? Didn’t you?

  2. Yes, head banging compulsory. Regardless of how sick you are. Or how close to puking in a moving vehicle crammed full of other people.

    And yes, being a little more venerable than you, I am familiar with the lyrics of Down Under. Did you also favour them with a rendition of Sounds of Then?

  3. Well, I didn’t do much head banging, but I was sitting next to a German fella who had absolute 70’s-grade glam-rock guitar hair. He could head bang enough for several karaoke rooms.

    Oh, it’s called Sounds of Then! I only knew it as the “This is Australia” song that they use in paint commercials sometimes. So, I’ll have to make sure I do that one next time, if they have it, right after “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree”.

  4. When it gets mellow, try requesting “I left my heart in San Fransisco”, but translocate it to “… Nagasaki” It scans well, and my Japanese hosts at the time seemed to appreciate the gesture. Or maybe they were just being polite.

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