You can say what you will about smell being the sense that is most powerfully intertwined with memory. I cannot say that because I’ve never had a sense of smell. Regardless, I know that I’m not the only person with deep connections between music and memories. Even before I ever went to Japan I would get deliriously high off listening to J-pop and bouncing around my room thinking “this is what Japan would feel like” and lo, it became true. On my 14-hour flight I made a playlist on my ipod that was essentially what I expected to serve as my “theme music” for the trip. Now on days where I’m feeling particularly nostalgic (i.e.: everyday) that playlist still “sounds” like Japan to me.
Now imagine that while you are in Japan you are handed a microphone and get to sing all your favorite songs while you’re still high off having just been in Japan all day. Also your friends are with you. Also you’re really really drunk. THIS IS REAL LIFE. THIS IS KARAOKE IN JAPAN.
The way karaoke works in Japan is different than American karaoke bars. You get your own private room generally with a table and menus for ordering drinks and snacks. There’s a phone in the room for ordering food so there isn’t someone constantly walking in on your horrendous singing- and you get a phone call ten minutes before your time is up because you are actually too drunk to tell how much time has gone by. All you know is that there’s been a huge TV in front of you that has been playing all your favorite music videos, there’s a microphone in your hand, a fruity mixed drink in the other, and everything has been totally awesome.
The reason the experience is so much more personal in Japan than the embarrassing American counterpart of having to get on stage in front of strangers is because karaoke is a legitimate “thing”. Everyone does it. The Japanese youth, in general, feels little inclination to drink or smoke or do drugs or engage in “adult” behavior while still in junior high or high school. So on the weekends they go to karaoke for wholesome fun with friends. Adults go to karaoke to get hammered. Everyone wins!
I have around 2 hours worth of karaoke footage, all of which makes me cringe and grimace and laugh as a defense mechanism because it’s just that bad. I literally can’t sit through it in silence, and as much as it would be appropriate to throw in a video to make this a more complete entry, I want to maintain the facade that Japanese karaoke is a glamorous, thrilling, wonderful experience with zero consequences. Because when you’re belting out Peach by Otsuka Ai like it’s the last time you’ll ever hear the song in your entire life, that’s what it feels like, and you’ll pull out your video camera and want to immortalize it for your entire life. But don’t. Don’t do that to yourself.
The Japanese have found a way to make every man feel like a god for a few hours, and it is through karaoke.