However, this was in America. Pensacola, Florida, America, to be precise, and that was a bit different from karaoke in Japan. In America, karaoke is usually performed in a one-room bar, with adults (or fake ID-carrying minors) you may or may not know. If you choose to sing and can't carry a tune, like me, you have basically embarrassed yourself in front of everyone there. The positive side of that is that you may never see those people again, so who cares what they think? It's your friends you took with you to the bar who will never let you live down what you thought was your amazing rendition of "I Will Always Love You." In fact, they probably have it on video with links from their Facebook, Twitter and Friendster accounts, with you tagged repeatedly.
Well, in Japan the random embarrassment in front of strangers is eliminated, much to my disappointment. Each group has their own small room to sing/perform/embarrass themselves in. I did not so much care what the Japanese thought of me... being large and blonde desensitizes you to odd looks from Asian strangers... I wanted to see Japanese people karaoke-ing. What songs to they select? What are their favorite English songs? Do they giggle a lot? Does that stereotypical Japanese business man who is drunk on sake sing John Denver songs off key and to his own beat in terrible English? These are things my inquiring mind wants to know, but never got to find out. We had only one Japanese lady with us, Miho, Rodney's boss' wife, a sweetheart who organized the entire Girls Night Out event for the wives of the Marines attached to the small unit Rodney is in. I bet you can guess which one Miho is... she is not the large blonde.
While most American karaoke is performed in bars, the Japanese karaoke clubs are generally open to people of all ages, including kids, There were a number of families who brought young children in to the lobby while we were there, and there was a group of high school girls. Since everyone has their own room of shame, you don't have to worry about your kids bother people... or vice versa. So, 10 wives (the 10th one missing in the photo above is also Jessica and she was taking the photo. One Jessica per photo is all the camera could handle) crammed in to a room meant for a maximum of 8 Japanese people, which means 5 or 6 Americans. The employees were kind enough to bring in three extra padded stools for us. Here is the room to the right from the doorway:
Here is the room to the left of the doorway.
Now, let me back up a moment. This karaoke club is on the second floor of a gaming center... so you have to go up two flights of stairs. Not a problem when you're sober going in. Could be a problem when you're not so sober coming out. At the top of the stairs, you enter the doors to the left and enter the lobby.
It is 3,100 yen (about $33) for all-you-can-sing karaoke and all-you-can drink alcoholic beverages for three hours. Of course, they did not have tequila, so I tried whatever everyone else was having. Fruity things lacking in alcohol, but I was there for the experience, not the drinks. Next time I know to bring my own Patron.
What they DO provide to each group are tambourines and maracas... because off-key caterwauling is not noisy enough, I suppose. Here is our table halfway through the night:
I appreciated that the microphone had an octagon around it so it did not roll off the table.
This was the little touch-screen machine that we plugged the song numbers in to. They would immediately go in to the queue in the system attached to the TV and start playing. No DJ needed.
Live Dam was the brand name of the system... and the response to some of the notes we didn't hit. This is the thick book of songs, but we only needed about 60 pages of it... that was the English section. I plugged my birthday in to the system just for kicks and a Glen Campbell song came up. Not kidding.
When the song words played across the screen, there was random b-roll video that may or may not make sense with the words of the song. The Japanese really did try hard with the video below. "Sweet Home Alabama" had some gorgeous landscape shots... of Arizona and Utah.
As we sang, employees came in and out, bringing us our all-you-can-drinks. Here is a video of us singing one of the most popular American songs karaoke'd in the States 2012. Care to guess what it is? Hint: It's classic rock.
Warning: This video is educational, yet annoying. It features employees coming in and out with stuff for us, an example of the random b-roll shown on the TV monitor with the lyrics (which sort of made sense, but not really), Miho translating drink and food orders for nine other women, and some incredibly off-key shrieking. Turn your speakers down. It lasts 1 minute and 15 seconds.
Of course, this cultural adventure would not be complete without some Janglish... so here is the map of the club. We were in room 8, the white one almost exactly in the center of the, ahem, Floor Gaide (as I always say, their English is way better than my Japanese, but I still find it humorous). The bright blue square with the orange square in the bottom left corner is the front desk. The long rectangle on the left.... the treacherous flight of stairs outside to the parking lot.