7 Rules for Karaoke in Japan

If you happen to find yourself in Tokyo, then Shibuya’s a great place to start an evening. So we were there at Starbucks, just Aki and me slamming back steaming black grandes and Hitomi sipping some kind of whipped cream desert marketed to her as a coffee. I swear I don’t know how she stays so thin.

Then after a while, probably because we’d had a ton of caffeine, somebody said, “We should go get some beers. We really should.”

Probably I said that. But still, it was an excellent idea. So we left, but not before I stuffed a handful of Starbucks napkins into my pocket. They’re high-quality paper, and it’s not stealing if they’re free. I haven’t bought tissues or paper towels in years.

So we went to Family Mart and got a bag of cheese popcorn and three tall bottles of Kirin beer, because Hitomi “doesn’t like drinking out of cans.” Girls, jeez. Then after standing out front in the cold drinking and eating popcorn for about one minute, somebody said, “Christ it’s cold. We should go to karaoke and warm up.”

Again, me; okay, I’ll own that. Still, it was another damn fine idea.

“What d’we do with the beers?” asked Hitomi.

“Never fear,” I said. Famous last words. I had on this black leather coat, so I inserted one into each vest pocket of the coat, left and right, and palmed the other one up a sleeve. I didn’t spend five years in college for nothing.

The lobby of the karaoke place was buzzing with high school kids, but Aki managed to get us a room for 30 bucks apiece for 3 hours, including all-you-can-drink booze. He’s genius like that. I kinda had to pee, on account of all the coffee and beer, so I just stood back, clutched the beer up my coat sleeve, and concentrated on Hitomi’s ass.

Finally, the guy at the counter handed Aki a little orange basket with two microphones and a tambourine, and off we went to the elevator.

And Then Things Went South

And…Then It Happened. My hands were a bit sweaty. Maybe it was having to pee. Maybe it was Hitomi’s ass, who knows. But that sweat combined with some residual cheese popcorn slime formed a NASA-grade lubricant on the surface of the beer bottle, which somehow, uh, slipped. Suddenly, there was a massive Bam! as the bottle hit the tile and beer started gushing out. Everybody stopped and stared in gape-mouthed amazement—other customers, the high school kids, the staff behind the counter—-watching a white guy in a black coat, in the middle of the lobby, in the center of Shibuya, in the middle of Tokyo, trying to mop up a smuggled beer with a stack of high-quality Starbucks napkins.

Beer, there was so much beer. It was like a lake of beer in the lobby. I was mopping like crazy, but the borders of the lake kept expanding. It grew to an ocean of beer. “Where’s all this fucking beer coming from?” I lamented. Like you know how Job lamented to God in the bible? Yeah well, I used roughly the same voice. It was like beer was freaking pouring from the heavens. And that was about the time I realized that bending over with a couple beers in one’s coat pockets was not a winning strategy. My coat was raining typhoons of beer. The Starbucks napkins were useless.

Nobody said a word, of course. You know, after the Great Tohoku Earthquake, the foreign press noted how “calm and orderly,” everyone was, like that’s a good thing. Hey, there’s a time for panic, like when the ocean’s swallowing up a few thousand people or God’s unleashing his wrath on your lobby with torrential beer. But the truth is, Japanese folks never react much to anything. Which in this case, worked in my favor, since two of the staff just wordlessly shuffled over with a mop and a bucket and started swabbing the decks. Of course, Aki, Hitomi, and I did the proper and responsible thing. We took our little orange basket and ran giggling to the elevator, got to our room, ordered a massive round of drinks, and launched into Bohemian Rhapsody. Now that’s a song.

So possibly that’s not the best way to start off with karaoke, whatever. Let’s get back to basics. Since I don’t know how much karaoke you actually do, I’ll just lay it out from Square One.

7 Rules for Singing Karaoke in Japan

1. Make a song list

This is why He invented the smartphone. And by “He,” I mean The Creator, of course. Because Steve Jobs wouldn’t want to see you sitting there with your head all dog-tilted, going “uh, what should I sing?” That’s a straight amateur move. Instead, every time you hear a song that sounds good or even remotely singable, note it in your phone. That way, when you get to karaoke, you’re good to go. He would like that.

2. Search for value in Japan

Prices vary insanely. I’ve paid hundreds of dollars for a night of karaoke. Okay, maybe there were some ladies involved. I’m a little hazy on the details. But I’ve also paid next to nothing, with enough booze and snacks to mortify a cardiologist. Suffice to say that karaoke is a competitive business and if you look around, you can find some impressive deals. Skip chains like Big Echo and look for places with peeling paint and blocked fire exits. Now you’re getting your groove on.

3. Go to karaoke alone

Ever played basketball? Yeah, me neither, but I’m pretty sure dudes spend a lot of time practicing shots by themselves. Same thing with karaoke, only minus the ball and sneakers. If you go alone, especially on a weekday, it can cost as little as two bucks an hour, with free soft drinks. Try drinking fifty Cokes and not singing a mess of songs, I dare you. Never mind the dental bills. Greatness demands sacrifice. Okay sure, going alone, you feel like a loser with no friends, but that’s just all in your head. Unless you actually have no friends, in which case, well hey, at least you can have fun singing a mess of songs.

By yourself, you can practice the same tune over and over until you either get it right or decide it doesn’t work for you. Sometimes a song seems perfect, but for some reason, bombs. Maybe the key’s too high, or the rhythm’s weird, or you don’t actually know the words. Whatever. No reason to subject others to hours of your horrible singing. Go through your song list and work that shit out in advance.

4. Tune the electronics

Karaoke machines have three or four dials on the front that take you from Abysmal to Amazing, depending on how you twist them. If you can read Japanese, it’s kind of helpful, but not necessary. (I should mention, by the way, that virtually all karaoke places have electronic songbooks with the option for English.)

Anyway, back the machine itself. The buttons, in left-to-right order, are for Background music, Background vocals (if there are 4 buttons), Echo, and Microphone. I think that’s right. Anyway, play around. I generally set the background music pretty high, and the mic a touch lower. Then crank up the echo. If you’ve got the mic too high, you’ll sound tinny, and worse, you’ll be able to hear how much of a crappy singer you actually are. Don’t want that. If you balance it right, your mediocre voice will blend into the music and you’ll sound pretty good. Enough echo and you’ll sound great.

5. Really sing

If there’s a trick to karaoke, it’s probably this: you’ve gotta actually sing. As in, fill your lungs with air and project your voice, holding the notes. I know it sounds super obvious, but a lot of folks don’t do it. You can’t half-ass singing. It’s not talking. And that goes double for karaoke. It’s not like your car or your shower. The electronics help, if you get right up on the mic and sing loudly. If you have to turn down the microphone volume, you’re on the right track.

6. Don’t sing over people

Want to be the most annoying karaoke guest ever? Then every time somebody else is singing, sing along, loudly, and preferably off-key. That helps to drown them out and negate any effort they’re making to actually sing the song.

You gotta use some judgment here, which isn’t always easy when you’re dealing with an all-you-can-drink special, but try anyway. It’s fine to sing the chorus of Yellow Submarine. Look at the lyrics. We all live in a yellow submarine. That’s your first clue. We are the World? Great, same thing. But nobody wants you to screw up their rendition of Poker Face. Give somebody else the chance to be Lady Gaga for a change.

Like, you know how your uncle watches football and he’s all, Well if I was the quarterback, I’d have thrown a screen pass? And you’re like, No Uncle Jimmy, you wouldn’t have. Because you’re a fat old fart on a sofa, watching somebody else do something that’s actually hard. Like somehow in our minds, we all think we can do well given the chance, but the reality is, it’s a good thing Jimmy’s not on the field. Singing over people is like being that guy at the comedy club who shouts out the punchline before the comedian. Everybody’s having fun, and it’s easy to get caught up and want to participate. So although it’s exciting when you hear a song you like, now just might be a good time to eat a heaping serving of Shut the Fuck Up. Stay on the sofa and everybody gets a turn.

7. Don’t Facebook me, bro

Karaoke’s a lot like homemade porn. It always seems like a great idea to take video, until later when your wife finds the one with you and the babysitter. And no matter how well you think you’re doing, you’re not gonna look like a professional anyway. So stick with stills and everybody looks good.

One more small, but big thing: although it may sound terribly 2005, nobody needs their boss calling them into the office because you decided to post Ken Seeroi’s version of Shots to social media. That’s never a fun conversation. What happens in karaoke, stays in karaoke, right? Let’s just say right.

And Now You’re a Karaoke Superstar

So there you go. Follow those seven rules and you’ll be all up on the mic like Little Wayne. Then all you need is a trip to Shibuya, a bunch of coffee, three beers, and some cheese popcorn. Having a few young ladies along would also help, but then it always does. Ah, but that’s another story.

57 Replies to “7 Rules for Karaoke in Japan”

  1. Ken,

    I have no idea why people like to sing in a small group because I’m tone deaf and cannot bear to sing in front of others. My real name is that of a famous singer and I was forced to sing in Marine Corps Boot Camp every morning and night till it caused me to lose my voice for almost a month.

    I must admit, I can imagine how nice it must be to have a great looking woman sing to you in such a personal setting and since you can sing well: do you find this helpful in getting to know Japanese women? I mean do you sing in Japanese or English to make their hearts a flutter…, hmmmm! Reading these 7 rules, I almost want to try it out… cough cough… well, not really! Great read and another CM that’s pretty Marine-like too! Are you sure you weren’t in the USMC??? Maybe in a previous lifetime… LOL!

    1. I’ll admit, I’ve forgotten a night here or there, maybe even a big weekend. But I’m pretty sure I didn’t blank on any service in the military. If you actually served, but then forgot it ever happened, is the Marine Corps then guilty of stolen valor in reverse?

      To answer your question, I sing in both languages to make their hearts flutter. And yeah, it’s extremely helpful. I mean, whenever you can do something competently, and show a woman a good time, you know you’re on the right track.

  2. My approach for singing a karaoke song in Japanese is to download the lyrics in romaji well in advance, and practice, practice, practice to get it right before trying it out with Japanese folks. The stresses in Japanese lyrics often fall in odd places to Western expectations, so it’s best to figure them out beforehand. Romaji means I don’t have to worry about reading fluency while I’m singing. I’m old-fashioned enough to print the song out on a piece of paper and take it along with me, but on a mobile device would be fine.

    1. That’s exactly what I do, except without the romaji. I look up any kanji I don’t know, and then practice until I can read and sing it at speed.

      It’s especially interesting to hear the syllabification in songs. The words are sometimes stretched or broken in unusual places. Just like in English, sometimes when you see the lyrics, you’re like, Oh, that’s what they were saying.

  3. You always write things in a funny enough way to make them interesting even if I don’t care about the topic. This is making me actually consider trying karaoke out at least once. I read through your entire blog in the past few weeks since I’m moving to Shibuya in a few months. Along with other blogs about The Tokyo Life™ of course. You’ve managed to already make me bitter about how Japan isn’t as great as it is in your dreams, and I haven’t even booked my flight there yet. In all seriousness though, I enjoy your writing a lot, I hope we get to see it more frequently in the future. Cheers!

    1. Please don’t be bitter. What I’m describing is only the process of growing up.

      When you get here, you’re basically a child, and the world is full of wonder. Then as the years go by, you realize that everyone lied to you about Santa and that your dog may not actually be waiting for you up in heaven. So that process is going to happen, but it doesn’t mean that the world, or Japan, is an inherently bad place.

      All I’d say is, when you get here, search for truth. Question everything people say, and look for the reasons things are as they are. You’ll have fun, and excitement, and sadness, and everything else. And then more fun, especially if you try karaoke.

  4. Funny. 🙂 I was grinning like an idiot while reading the intro in our sharehouse communal kitchen and getting all self conscious. I may be guilty of the singing along to other people’s songs, but I think everyone was doing that. I’ll keep it in mind next time…

    1. Yeah, I shudder to think how long I must’ve sung over other people’s songs. What’ll make you suddenly conscious of it is when someone louder and more off-key than yourself does it to you. I can’t recall seeing a Japanese person do it either. But check it out next time you go and tell me if I’m wrong.

      1. I went again, and I anthropologized (?) everyone in the name of anecdotalism. You’re right, at least in my sample of 9 (Japanese 4, Other 5). The Japanese didn’t really sing over anyone, just the gaijins (except for one girl from Kansai who did a bit, but that was more in supportive additions rather than blasting out the full song).

  5. Rule 8.
    You enter one (1) song only and pass the remote on to the next person, not the person that you received the remote from. Once everyone has entered one (1) song no more song you don’t enter another one until you’ve sung.

    Japanese know this, they are great in small groups – they’ve been trained since they were babies for these sorts of situations. Gaijin, it’s a free for all, a competition to enter as many of your own songs before any one else. Then some of us sit there for two hours and wonder if our song is ever going to come up.

    1. Drunk poster identified:
      Rule 8.
      You enter one (1) song only and pass the remote on to the next person, not the person that you received the remote from. You don’t enter another one until you’ve sung.

    2. Yeah, entering more than one song at a turn would be a massive violation of karaoke protocol. I haven’t seen that in years, so much that I can hardly imagine it now. Guess I need to do more gaijin karaoke. Or perhaps not.

  6. Ken,

    I discovered your site a few weeks ago and have been enjoying reading your posts since then, mostly during downtime at work, so I have to be careful not to LOL, which is a real challenge sometimes!

    I think I’ve figured out your writing style and wit: 50% JD Salinger’s protagonist in Catcher in the Rye, 25% Will Rogers, 25% Yogi Berra, and 25% J.P. Patches thrown in for good measure. (Your middle-aged readers from Seattle know what I mean. RIP Chris Wedes.) Yeah I know that’s 125%, whatever.

    I’ve been married for 28 years to a native Polish woman and am ashamed to admit I never learned Polish. So in January I kicked my own butt and started self learning. I’m up to about 500 words now, but the grammar will be an even bigger challenge, since it causes words to have many forms depending on the situation. Polish is supposed to be one of the most difficult for native English speakers. I figure if I can learn Polish fluently, that might make it easier to learn some Japanese later, which I also have an interest in.

    Have you ever heard of Rocket Japanese? I was wondering what your impression of it is, if you’re familiar with it. PC Magazine gave it a good review, but it doesn’t include any Kanji, just Hiragana and Katakana. It’s not free but you only have to pay once and your done, not monthly like a lot of products out there. Membership is for life.

    As for karaoke, I can see why it might be popular, but I just can’t picture myself doing that, and especially not my wife who, God love her, has a terrible singing voice! But perhaps that perception could be cured with enough beer (if I was a drinker, that is).

    1. So your plan is to learn Polish first, and that’s going to help with the Japanese? Wow. That’s probably the most challenging plan I’ve ever heard, but good luck with that.

      As far as language-learning products are concerned, I’ve seen most, but—and I hate to say it—I’m not overly impressed by any of them. Online learning for languages always seems a bit flat and boring. It really hasn’t cracked the code yet. It’s mighty hard to beat the immediacy of a teacher with a good book.

      But back to the topic at hand, it’s my belief that singing is about 90% practice, and 10% innate ability. If your wife has enough interest, I’m sure she could do fine at karaoke. And yeah, if you drank, beer would take care of the remaining 10%.

      1. Well, I can’t very well justify learning Japanese first when my wife is Polish, even though I have a keen interest in Japanese. Imagine my wife’s consternation if I learned Japanese first, especially after 28 years of marriage!

        Right now I’m using Duolingo and Memrise to force correct pronunciation, vocabulary and phrases into my long term memory, but it doesn’t seem to help me spontaneously speak in the language, at least not yet. I think that’s a different psychological hurdle to overcome than mere memorization. Like forcing a shift in gears in an old rusty car. The gears in my head grind at the effort. But then, I’m only up to about 500 words so far, and mostly in the infinitive form. So really I’m just starting. Hopefully I’ll get there eventually, with the linguistic help of my Polish wife. But we’re so used to speaking English to each other that Polish seems awkward, even for her.

        I’ve often read that learning a third language is easier once you’ve reached fluency in a second. Something about breaking the rut of monolingualism and changing the way your brain processes language. If this is true then I figure reaching fluency in a difficult language like Polish should make learning another difficult language like Japanese less onerous, although after reading your numerous posts on the subject I have no illusions of actually mastering it.

        Looking further ahead, perhaps learning Polish and Japanese might even make learning an easier 4th language a snap, like French, since English is already 28% French. But of course in even thinking about this I’m getting way ahead of myself. I’m not even sure I’ll even ever learn Polish. Old dogs and new tricks, you know.

        I don’t usually drink, but it might be an interesting experiment to get mellow and have my wife sing a few bars. She might still sound shrill though if she knew I’d been drinking to get mellow.

        1. I image a couple additional advantages of learning a 2nd language before learning Japanese might be:

          1. Laddering. Learning Japanese THROUGH the 2nd language. That way one can avoid English altogether while learning Japanese and boost the 2nd Language skill at the same time.

          2. Speak only the 2nd Language or Japanese while in Japan. This way one can plausibly deny knowing English. Probably works best as a couple. Example: Speaking Polish to each other but Japanese to the locals while in Public. How many Japanese do you know who speak Polish? Not many, I’d wager.

        2. Hey Mark, I’m Polish and I truly admire your will to learn the language. I don’t mean to discourage you, but it’s super difficult! Foreigners have much trouble especially with tenses and declension. So stay consistent and powodzenia:) English is my second language, German third and now I’m taking little steps with Japanese.

          Ken, thanks for the great read; always looking forward to your next article.

    1. You know, actually smuggled beer (not sure about bear) is kind of a karaoke standard. Unless you’re really up for a massive all-you-can-drink special, a couple of beers in the bag work wonders. Of course, there are cameras in many of the booths, and the staff will check up on you, so it pays to be a bit discreet.

      1. I can blame that bear instead of beer on the beer (but since it’s Japan Wonderland, one of these days you can surprise us with a post of a smuggled bear). Oh, no, cameras? What if they see you with the maid?

        1. Crystal ball malfunction, basically. Unless you go to the same place regularly, you can’t be sure which deal you’ll end up with at a karaoke joint. Depending on the promotions running, time of day, and phases of the moon, it might be more economical to go with no drinks, smuggled drinks, a few individual drinks, or butt wild with all-you-can-drink. Karaoke is an imprecise science.

      2. One thing I noticed about smuggled alcohol:
        when it’s us foreigners we hide it, make sure to not call the staff in (or hide the booze when that happens), and place our bags right in front of the camera :P.
        When it’s my Japanese group, they do not give a shit, walk into the store with the conbini bag visible, place everything on the table and don’t hesitate to order food and have the staff walk in, and none of them knew that karaoke boxes had cameras.
        The only people I know who actually get the all-you-can-drinks at karaoke (sans the ridiculous group-discount offer/paid-by-the-company nomikai occasions) are people from the gaijin bubble who think that smuggling might actually get them in trouble.

  7. Ken, おはよ〜!

    It’s been a while since you have posted in the morning! Mabye I’m just crazy but it seems like you post late at night your time usually. Are you pulling yourself out of bed??? Props, because I have to slide out and stumble around on the floor before I can see clearly that no, in fact, I am not in a different world but hugging the carpet as a giant bear.

    Anyways, somehow your ridiculously good posts get better as time goes on… like a red wine I suppose? Dude, keep it up and I’ll be forced by the universe to buy you a round of beers at your choice of 居酒屋。I seriously want to hang when I start college in Japan homie.

    ~Noah (^~^)v

    1. They say Hemingway used to wake up every morning and write until noon. Guess that’s why I’m not Hemingway, since I just write whenever the hell I feel like it. I started that piece a couple of weeks prior, but it never really went anywhere. And then on Monday (which was a Japanese holiday), I just woke up and thought of something funny, and typed it up. I ended up scrapping pretty much everything I’d written before, but that’s okay. Glad it turned out to your liking after all. Thanks much for the props.

      Your homie,


  8. Wait, you were smuggling beers into a karaoke when you had a nomihodai deal? That seems kinda counter-productive.

    On #1, if you want to look really professional, you can join up with the karaoke sites (the actual karaoke companies like Joysound) and create playlists at your leisure then just log in at the karaoke.

    The small karaokes are definitely the best, go half a block down a side alley and you pay a fraction of the cost of the big places. Often the sound system is just as good too. Big Echo is the worst!

    1. When I first got to Japan, I went to Big Echo a lot. Their membership card is similar to what you described—it allows you to store all the songs you sang and create a playlist. Very cool. Unfortunately, I left it somewhere after a bunch of beers and never went to the trouble of retrieving it. Now, as we’ve both agreed, it’s far too expensive compared with the competition.

      And yeah, carrying beer into what turned out to be a nomihodai isn’t exactly the plan I had in mind. Come to think of it though, my plan, as always, was to have no plan.

      1. Nuts! I meant to post this under your humor-in-English-class comment. Dang CAPTCHA. I’ll repost in the correct place so you can delete this one.

  9. It’s so depressive how when I practice and practice – I sound terrific. Until the actual karaoke night that is. My voice seems to go up a pitch or two, and I sound pretty much like a sheep. That’s especialy sad if you’re into singing things like Korn’s Freak on a Leash…Maybe it’s the lack of caffeine before the beers. I’ll need to try and follow your steps of advice for sure!

    Ah, and just a word of thanks for your terrific blog. I bumped into it about a week ago, and this seriously slowed down my work progress, as I was just too busy readying it. Some wonderful tips on surviving Japan, which is inevitable for me. But I’m all ready to play my pretty-white-girl gaijin card, while mastering those Kanji.

  10. I love your writing Ken!

    I have been reading it for the past week, as I tend to lurk for a while before making the first comment. I read about your (slightly) negative takes on Japan, which I’ll be honest with you, snapped me out of the romanticized notion that I’ll like to head back to Japan again, maybe to stay for a year or so. I’ve always heard a lot of good things about Japan, but never personally had the urge to visit (although I’ve been to most of her neighbors – China, Korea (work) and Taiwan (kinda work)) but after a year of procrastination I finally made my way there 3 weeks ago with my better half. I fell in love with the place, although I’ve just been to Hokkaido. It (seems like) a wonderful place, full of mostly polite people but then again I don’t know the language and I read that most of it is a facade anyway from your posts.

    I still would like to go back though, maybe not to live, but to stay for a length of time. I’m still working out the details and researching just how to go about doing it. Thanks for the insider insights (loved your posts about making friends in Japan) and witty writing. Cheers!

  11. Ken,
    You’re a pretty funny guy on your blog…I was wondering about the Japanese sense of humor and whether you’ve tried using humor as a teaching tool in your English classes, and how well it went over with your students. I’m not talking about the dancing ALT monkey variety of humor either. For example, maybe teaching English baseball terms and then showing a video of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine. Or since you take a lot of photographs, maybe some examples of EngRish signage you might find to drive home differences between correct and incorrect spelling and grammar. Does your wit generate LULs or blank stares with Japanese you try it on? If you could put Japanese sense of humor (or lack thereof) in a nutshell, how would you describe it? I would think that any success you have in livening up an English class with fun and laughter would pay ample dividends in the learning progress of your students, unlike the drudgery you’ve previously described of the typical English curriculum and teaching styles you’ve found in the public school system.

    1. When I teach, my cardinal rule is: don’t freaking be boring. ‘Cause nobody’s learning if you bore the hell out of them. So absolutely, I use humor, lots of group and pair work, videos, games, whatever it takes. That’s a teacher’s job, as far as I’m concerned. If you can’t make your subject fun and interesting, find another line of work. The world needs more accountants.

      How would I sum up the Japanese sense of humor? Easy. Know all those hilarious Japanese movies? You know, the real blockbusters? And all the famous Japanese stand-up comics? All the subtle and witty social commentaries penned by Japanese journalists? Surely you know the Japanese equivalent of John Stewart or John Oliver? No?

      Well uh, yeah, there’s your answer.

      1. Looks like you’re saying that they know something is funny when they see it, but are hard-pressed to originate anything funny themselves. Although, I’ve seen some pretty hilarious Japanese Anime online (can’t seem to find much live action TV online but there’s plenty of Anime available).

        On the other hand, only the Japanese seem to be able to make this grown man cry–with cartoons no less!! Must be their cultural sense of tragedy, caused perhaps by their utter defeat and devastation in WW2. Anti-war themes seem to be common tropes in such cartoons. Take for example Studio Ghibli’s “The Wind Rises” and “Grave of the Fireflies”, or the 13-episode anime series “SaiKano, the Last Love Song on This Little Planet.”

        1. Oh, Japanese people do tragedy like nobody’s business. Tragedy and drama.

          My guess is that it goes back a lot further than World War II. Either way, it’s very much built into the psyche of the people here. Understanding this gets you a long way into actually knowing the kind of people you’re dealing with.

          Ask an American about their future—like someone who’s got $20,000 in credit card debt and no retirement savings—and they go Ah, things’ll work out somehow. Here, check out the new Chevy truck I just bought! Now let’s drag the stereo into the back yard, toss some steaks on the barbecue and drink a mess of Bud.

          Same question to a Japanese person—only they’ve got $40,000 cash in the bank and live in a country with socialized medicine—and they go Ah, we have to think about getting sick and going into the hospital. Here, check out how frayed my coat is! Now let’s close the curtains and sit on the floor with bowls of rice and enjoy some delicious tofu.

          So, I don’t know much about anime. My sense is that it’s specifically created as an outlet; that it represents an alternate, or opposite, reality. Movies, however, often paint a very clear picture of life in Japan, and how people think. You may want to clarify your understanding of that before investing years into learning the language.

          1. Yeah, anime is definitely fantasy far removed from reality, even the “slice of life” variety, and even those are mostly middle/high school settings. I’ll try to find some live action movies online to see what you’re talking about. Got any specific titles in mind for a google search?

            1. You know, I used to live down the street from a place that rented movies for 80 yen apiece. I must’ve watched a hundred of them. Right off the top of my head, I’d recommend a film called “Nobody Knows.” Also, “One Liter of Tears” was quite touching, but perhaps I’m thinking of the drama more than the movie. Speaking of dramas, I watched a series called “Tonbi” online not too long ago, and that was good. For comedy, I’d recommend “Nankyoku ryorinin.” The first time I watched it, I didn’t speak Japanese as well, and it wasn’t that funny. But I watched it again recently, and it was hilarious. But maybe that has more to do with understanding the culture better too.

              Anyway, yeah, googling around for Japanese dramas may be your best bet. There are a bunch out there, and many have English subtitles. Happy hunting.

          2. Follow-up:
            I did a google search for Japanese movies and came up with this IMDb link to “Highest Rated Japanese Language Movies.”


            Most of these appear to be fantasy and/or animation, including a number of Studio Ghibli films. I wonder if that indicates that Japanese audiences are more interested in being entertained with an escape from reality, than with a cinematic depiction of something more real, as if a reminder of their own life situations is not something they want to deal with while at the cinema.

        2. For the most part, anime is a way to promote the original work. An adaptation of sorts. Historically this original work is manga, bur recently it includes light novel and all sort of games. It’s visually appealing, and watching a 24 minutes anime is easy. There all types of plots, so there’s probably something for you.

          Anime isn’t particularly sad, maybe it’s just that you watched sad ones.

          Indeed movies paint a clear picture of japan, that’s why I will watch a school girl attach a machine gun to her arm and wreak havoc to avenge her family https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSpCWJnnWVI

          1. OMG that’s a wild trailer! More wild and graphic than any anime I’ve ever seen, LOL. So Japan crawling with murderous cyborgs on vengeful rampages, eh?

      2. Low-budget Japanese movies are often quite funny. Anything by Minoru Kawasaki: Monster X Strikes Back/Attack the G8 Summit, Crab Goalkeeper, Everyone But Japan Sinks, Executive Koala and Calamari Wrestler are perfect for drinking half a bottle of rye and falling asleep to. “Zombie Self-Defense Force” and “Machine Girl” both have their light hearted moments as well. So there must be some capacity for humor in language teaching. However, the single biggest problem with teaching English in Japan (in my insanely limited experience) is that it is done with all parties sober. I remember walking home from a train ride one Thursday evening and getting importuned by a bunch of sloshed salarymen standing at a beer and yakitori stand. “Say something English please!” went one guy who stumbled in front of me. So I announced: “Friday is a write-off!” All the rest of them started yelling it, quite well, in fact. They offered me much beer and skewered meat, but I was late for a date.

        I think this one could use some more research, but I am no longer there.
        Great blog, thanks for today’s karaoke tips.

        1. You know, that’s the experience that made my initial life in Japan heavenly. And that has made my later life in Japan hellish. Funny how the exact same thing can come to have different meaning over time. I don’t know why it’s impossible to go back, but yeah, apparently it is. You can’t stay a freshman in college forever, although God knows I tried.

  12. More on #2 – Don’t believe when Japanese people tell you you can’t negotiate in Japan! You absolutely can in the case of searching for the best karaoke deal. And no Japanese necessary in the negotiation. All the guys working there are just trying to meet their quotas, you know!

  13. Thanks Ken,
    Having been blessed by never knowing this song until now, in the unlikely chance I ever get a chance to video you performing “Shots,” you can bet your *edited* it’s going viral. And thanks for the tips!

      1. Cool. Next time I get back to Saitama I’ll take you up on that. And the beers are on me, still filming though.

  14. Ok, I think I’ve figured out some parallels between programming and cultural analysis.
    – Coding/Japanese = different languages with different syntactic structures and rules.
    – Within each, the possibilities are determined by what is able to be conceived of within that logical framework.
    – The unspoken assumptions of each system are revealed by where they “break”; error messages or cultural disconnection.

    We read for the lols, but you show us what we cannot see about ourselves: how culture has shaped our worldviews. Only difference, disconnection, or errors can show us the limitations of our baseline assumptions, or at least that they are constructed rather than innate.

    Part of my fascination with Japan is the culture’s impenetrability, even its racism. Never have I felt so Other as in Japan. I love to be confused. I especially love to hear about your faux pas. It must be nice to spill beer all over the floor and know that it’s blog gold; your readers will adore you for it.

  15. Hey Ken,

    Long time gaijin here.
    I’ve seen your site from time to time, probably when I was trying to research visa stuff, or other gaijin concerns (- are there others?)

    Anyway, I needed to tell you that your story telling chops are getting ridiculous.
    Your writing is really coming along.
    The way you
    -build the tension
    -highlight all the unfathomable parts of Japanese daily life
    -show those parts just as they appear to confused foreign eyes is magic.

    I was giggling a fiend at the dropped smuggled beer.
    And the Japanese reactions – nothing – was perfect.
    I’m a karaoke alcohol smuggler myself from way back.
    I loves karaoke way more than any gaijin living in gaikoku could ever understand.
    Your story was the rare happy mixed slice of being understood AND being able to laugh at the dumb foreigner – who’s usually me – without the ego pain.
    Those are rare rare rare treats in Japan.

    Anyway, keep up the magic.

  16. hiya ken, Tony here from Indonesia. (You know Bali? Good, that’s Indonesia.)

    anyway, I’m pretty much restless right now, because you haven’t post anything new. It was like waiting for another season of Sherlock, except I don’t have to doing any Illegal download. Yeah, we download anything here for free, btw.

    Can I humbly suggest the next topic? I’m amazed that you practically have tackled almost all Living-in-Japan topics out there.
    Here is my suggestion:
    1. Gambling, pachinko and all that, you know.
    2. Hello kitty cafe. Lol.

    Looking forward for your next post, eh.

  17. i wish i found your blog BEFORE i moved to Japan….your posts are on point with what i feel and find out as time progresses here. i think about moving back to the states every single day but things got a little complicated and as you said in one of your posts, it’s not that easy to pack up and move….i feel miserable and i dont feel that i’m being myself ever since i moved here…anyway looking forward to seeing more posts from you. keep up the good work :>

    1. Sounds like you’re shooting par for the course, along with everybody else.

      Japan as a tourist = hey, good times
      Japan as an immigrant = uuh, where’d all the polite, friendly people go?

      It’s like one night you went clubbing, met a stranger and had random sex—and it was awesome! And so you married her. You were sure you were moving into the Playboy Mansion. And suddenly she wasn’t a stranger any more. And then gradually you stopped having lots of sex. Not that she’s a bad person or anything. I mean, she still washes the dishes and occasionally sweeps the house. Not a half-bad roommate, really. That’s great and all, and … I mean, that’s what you wanted, right? …

      …and that’s what living in Japan’s like.

  18. People always compliment me on my singing ability (Americans as well, so I know it’s not just politeness) but these are still great tips for me.
    I have started writing in my notebook the things I take away from your blogs.
    What would you say are the best songs to start with as far as japanese goes? The only foreign song I have sung is Moscow, and have never really strayed from popular american songs that seem to be known globally.

  19. Hi Seeroi-san,

    Massive fan of your blog and particularly your insights into studying Japanese, which has allowed me to keep my head up against all the BS that exists on the internet saying, ‘Learn Japanese in 3 months, its easy’ etc. Seriously, thank you. Whenever I get discouraged about my slow progress, I reread your posts centered on studying Japanese and it reminds me that, Seeroi Sensei has been fighting the good fight for 10 years and he’s still learning everyday! Don’t give up!
    I have a special ‘fan’ request, it’s my birthday on Monday and I’m dying for new blog post lol. Also your photos are fantastic and you should really start an Instagram account, which could also help draw even more fans to your blog. Please keep on writing and thanks again!

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