So it’s finally happened – you got the job, you’re moving to Japan. Maybe you’re nervous about the language barrier, maybe about the food, maybe you’re super-confident. That still doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be ready when your mandatory work party ends with you trapped in a small, smokey room with a microphone and ten of your closest, most intoxicated coworkers.
Some disclaimers: This about karaoke in Japan. This about the karaoke one goes to with one’s Japanese coworkers, usually after a party that included alcohol. I recommend consuming a certain amount of alcohol. This is written by someone who once seriously considered throwing up outside a restaurant to get out of going to the karaoke parlor and will consider it a success if she doesn’t end up singing in public for the remainder of her time in Japan (18-30 months).
Now that you know me, tell me about yourself so that I can best help you.
I love karaoke! I used to go with my friends all the time in college, it was so much fun! Do they really go to karaoke after work parties?
Yes. Karaoke seems to be The after-party activity of choice among the organizations that I know of, followed by going to a bar and getting more drunk. Have fun. Make sure you eat something.
Karaoke? I thought that was a joke. What’s it like? Is it fun?
If you don’t mind singing, it’s quite fun. In Japan you go to a karaoke parlor, where you could be set up in anything from a rather cramped room to a sort of suave, bar setting. There’s a TV screen (or screens) where the lyrics appear, along with a music video. If the song is fairly recent and popular, the actual, official music video will be shown. If not, a stock video that vaguely corresponds to the song will be shown. These are usually pretty terrible and people will groan if two songs in a row have the same stock video.
There are microphones (either real or toys) and usually a portable screen that can be passed around the room so that people can select the next song or songs. There’s usually a huge selection of Japanese songs (obviously), along with some in English or Korean. The selection in these last two is variable, but I’ve always been surprised by the variety I can pull up. They have the Beatles and Lady Gaga, but also Sara Bareilles and pretty much everything else that managed to hit the Billboard Top 100 in the last 5 years.
There are drinks, both alcoholic and not. Sometimes there’s food – the classy place my workplace prefers serves little seaweed salads and fruit.
Hmm, I don’t know…I’m not that great a singer.
Don’t worry, most of your coworkers probably aren’t either. The do have the advantage of 1) nine years of compulsory education that almost certainly included music and 2) having done karaoke before. Pick something fun, maybe something that you can sing together and go for it. Get a wee bit drunk beforehand if that’s physically/mentally/emotionally possible (your coworkers are probably at least half-wasted).
No, really not that great a singer.
Ah. Hmm. Okay, here’s what I recommend:
First, you can put you coworkers off for awhile. They’ll be sad, but you can usually beg off after the regular party, before they go to the karaoke place (pray that it’s somewhere else). Use your partner/kids/cat, if possible. They may get suspicious about your always forgetting to feed Fluffy before going out, but most of them will let it go. This is one of those times where you can be foreign and different and strange and use it to your advantage.
If possible, go to the karaoke place alone beforehand. You can get a tiny room for not much at most places and it’ll allow you to get used to the set-up. Pick a song that you like – if you’re not sure, I recommend Queen (We Will Rock You) or the Beatles (Hey Jude), something not super fast and with a certain amount of enunciation. Practice.
If you can’t go to the karaoke place by yourself (I can’t, mine’s a bar), sing at home, in your shower, whatever. You can find karaoke tracks for a lot of songs on YouTube or even iTunes. Use these. It’s harder than you think to sing properly when Lady Gaga isn’t right there providing back-up vocals. Familiarize yourself with the music alone, as much as possible.
The night of, gather courage however you can (I recommend alcohol) and go for it. If you suck, nobody will say anything unless they’re completely wasted. Ignore them, everyone else will be. Or laugh. If someone says something the next day, pretend not to understand. Or tell them you were so drunk you don’t remember. That’s reasonable here, as opposed to a sign of mental illness.
No, I mean I would rather cut off my left hand than sing in public.
Oh! Don’t worry, I totally understand, that was/is me. I hate singing out loud. Despise it. I can’t even really enjoy other people singing live unless they are very, very good.
First, like I said above, you can put them off for awhile. I managed it easily for five months and probably could have maintained it for at least a year. They’ll tell you it’s more about comraderie than singing well and they’re mostly right. Ignore them.
You can keep that up or you can rip the bandaid off. Get drunk, pick a song that you can muddle through, muddle through it.
If you’re as bad as you say (I was), they will cease to bother you. If one of them does, give them a meaningful, incredulous look.
You may be worried about it becoming something of a legend. Don’t. Bad singing does not top puking into a urinal. If someone does become annoying, apply the steps in the last part of the above section.