Karaoke: Japan v UK カラオケ: 日本 v UK

Karaoke in the UK is quite different from karaoke in Japan. The main difference is that in the UK it is mainly in pubs, whereas in Japan it is mainly in smaller, more intimate settings.
When I saw karaoke in London, Manchester and Brighton the singer had to go up on stage in a huge pub before an audience largely composed of strangers; it was solo, and a 'performance' rather than self-entertainment for their group; it was kind of just for laughs and it raised a few; it took courage - Dutch or otherwise. Not everyone gets to sing - or wants to - and many would like to but dare not.
In Japan, karaoke is not so daunting. Japanese bars are incredibly small and karaoke bars in particular are ooh very dark; you sing in your seat, surrounded by your friends, and there are two mics or more up for grabs. Everyone gets a few turns. There are songs in both Japanese and foreign languages - sometimes with spelling mistakes and funny English. Lately, 24-7 karaoke boxes are gaining popularity over the karaoke bar. In a karaoke box you rent a private room to sing with/for your friends (or alone) so if you don't want to sing to strangers, or if you just want to be with your own mates, or if you want the mic to go round quicker so that you get more chances to sing, the box is even better than the bar. You can alter the pitch of the song, order room-service (of food and drinks) by intercom and stay as long as you like. In the highest state-of-the-art boxes you can even get a score based on how in-tune you were! They're booming such that more multi-storey karaoke-box complexes are being built all the time in spite of zero population growth.
Link: How to do Karaoke the Japanese Way


Karaoke: regional Britain カラオケ

I recently read that, compared to the rest of Britain, karaoke caught on much quicker in Scotland and Ireland - "that's where they had the tradition of collective singing...and more of a tradition of the ballad," Simon Frith proffered in the article in the Guardian.
I can't dispute the statistics, but it's illogical to conclude from them that karaoke is the evolutionary successor to ballad and collective singing traditions, and that the relationship is causal. Besides, collective singing in the British Isles is not the preserve of only Scotland and Ireland. It's a trivial issue in the grand scheme of things, but I think that what the statistics are purported to reflect is spurious. Here are a few reasons....
Collective singing The Welsh are world famous as singers. And in both England and Wales - aside from the old traditions of ballads and work songs - there is singing in schools, church congregations, football crowds, rugby teams, working men's clubs, scouts, coaches, hen-nights, birthdays, Christmas carols, folk clubs, open-mics, and community choirs; there are thousands of applicants for TV talent contests, and uncounted millions of singers in bathrooms and cars. Has karaoke been tried and failed all over England and Wales?
Market forces The spread of karaoke has many influences. Unlike the kinds of singing mentioned above, karaoke is a commercial enterprise and hosted by another commercial enterprise - its spread surely depends more on market alternatives/competition and the economic vicissitudes of pubs than on any ballad or collective singing traditions. Pubs and karaoke alike have a social role, sure, but economics determine their birth and survival.
Demographics There are loads of Scottish and Irish people in England and Wales, and other people from other countries with rich song traditions - surely enough to get a bit of karaoke off the ground.
To make any attempt at explaining the regionality of karaoke we need more details about exactly who is singing and where - there may even be an inverse relationship between singing traditions and karaoke.

As for karaoke itself, the British Isles' style is quite different from that in Japan. I wrote about that here.
There are a few Japanese-style karaoke bars and boxes in London (one box, coincidentally, in Frith Street). The bars are small and tend to be expensive business account type places. Boxes, on the other hand are cheaper and open to everyone. They really are the next generation. Being dedicated venues, boxes are more of a commitment for owners than either karaoke bars or the machine-hire variety but if karaoke boxes were more widespread in the UK, the regional propensity-for-a-sing-song as measured by karaoke uptake would probably look very different.


Enka 演歌

Enka 演歌 is a popular kind of Japanese sentimental singing using elaborate ornamentation and melodramatic vibrato. I notice that if I ask Japanese people if they like enka, they either say Yes! or they laugh. Its nostalgic qualities, variously maudlin or clap-along, make it the karaoke style of choice for the best middle-aged after-parties. Its origins and influences are probably mixed: minyo (Japanese traditional folk song), Korea, China have all been cited. It even sounds a bit like Portuguese fado (Portuguese influence in Japan is huge due to historical sea trade) and certainly plays a similar social role. It was popular throughout the Showa period (1925- 89) though it has morphed during that time - gradually acquiring orchestral backing and glamour post-war - but retained Japanese instrumentation and an intense and celebrated old-Japaneseness. It is supposed to have its roots in earlier 'disguised political' street-song of the Meiji period (1868-1910) which was also called enka. To distinguish the Meiji and Showa forms the latter is sometimes called Kayoukyoku 歌謡曲 which means 'ballad music', but it refers only to the 'pop' part of the enka spectrum and mainly distinguishes the older style crooning from the more youthful 'J-pops'.
Kitajima Saburo 北島三郎 (1936- ) was a wandering entertainer ( nagashi ) before he became the most popular male enka singer. Due to parts of his movie portfolio he is a favorite singer of the yakuza. He also appears on the Red and White Show on TV at New Year - the Japanese equivalent of the Andy Stewart or Jools Holland New Year Shows. The most famous female enka singer is the amazing Misora Hibari 美空 ひばり(1937-1989) whose last song, Kawa no Nagare no yo- ni 川の流れのように (Like a river flows) was voted the best Japanese song of all time in an NHK poll in 1997. No doubt the voting reflects the immense pleasure to be had giving it your all in karaoke - it's a full-flighter! The Misora Hibari Kan memorial museum in Arashiyama, in which her records, films, costumes and dressing rooms were on display, closed down in 2006 - the exhibits transferred to the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Sumida. She was a child film star (see Tokyo Kid) and is known as the queen of enka and an icon of the post-war reconstruction. Here is Misora Hibari singing Yawara (dressed as a bloke). She also recorded a Japanese/English version of la vie en rose and a macaronic L.O.V.E. among her 1,200 records.
New enka singers are still emerging. Hikawa Kiyoshi is perhaps the best known of the younger ones. Here is Kiyoshi pitched against Kitajima Saburo in a TV show.

Violin enka バイオリン演歌 In 2005 there was an article in the Daily Yomiuri newspaper about a violin-enka-singer (fiddle-singer) in a Tokyo park. I went in search of him but on the day I went it was raining so no music. A year later I couldn't find him. His name was Ken? Morita 森田銀月, and he wore Meiji-era clothes - flat cap, kimono and hakama. I'll dig out the article and fill in the details. PS Just found his picture on a website (click parag title).
Other violin enka links:
Yousan02 violin day
Tanosiki violin enka
Teidaisei Yumeji 帝大生ゆめじ


Irish music in Kyoto 1980s

Who was playing? (Where were they from; where now) What did they play?
Jay Gregg (N. Carolina; Kyoto) banjo (now fiddle and guitar)
Kyoko Maeda (Osaka; Kyoto) whistle
Atsushi Akazawa ( ?; Kyoto) fiddle and bouzouki
Les Denniston (Glasgow; Kyoto) song, bodhran
John Matthews (Cheshire; Wales) pipes
Rory Campbell (Belfast; France) song, whistle, bodhran
Jake Costello (Minnesota; Kyoto) whistle, black-flute
Larry Rone (Texas; Texas) black-flute
Liza Woo ( ? ; ?) piano
Takashi Tomoya (Hokkaido; Kyoto) guitar, fiddle
Felicity Greenland (Merseyside; Kyoto) song, whistle, bodhran

(.......the music isn't all Irish.......what can it be called?....... )

Bibliography - Western Song in Japan

Information in English about Western songs in Japan
- on the web

Music education in Japan by Kensho Takeshi
Music in Japan Today by Takako Matsuura
The Beginnings of Western Music in Meiji Era Japan by Ury Eppstein
Japanese Children's Folk Songs before and after contact with the West by Elizabeth May
Tokyo Kodomo Club 東京こどもクラブ 1965-80
History of Japanese Music @ Far Side Music site
Irish Music and the Experience of Nostalgia by Sean Williams
Asia Pacific Database on Intangible Cultural Heritage
Common Repertoire - a related article on this blog
- in print
TACHI Mikiko, Representations of American Folk Music in Japan: A Study of Heibon Punch Magazine, 1964-1970:- International Popular Culture Association Conference, Aug. 2005, Swansea, Wales, U.K.
TACHI Mikiko, American Folk Music in Japan: Crossing Cultures and Reconstructing Authenticity, 1960-1970:- American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Nov. 2004, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.
- audio
Misora Hibari - 不死鳥パートII全曲集IILabel: Ho Son. Catalog#: J-013. Track 19 Bara-iro No Jinsei is a version of La Vie en Rose made popular by Edith Piaf, with alternate lyrics: Verse 1 of 2 is in Japanese, Verse 2 of 2 in English.
Misora Hibari sings L.O.V.E.

Far Side Music

Amazing recordings of Japanese music, including street music, are available from this London distributor. (Click title)

Nagashi 流し

Nagashi is the Japanese word for a kind of wandering minstrel (lit. flow-er/drifter). In their current form nagashi are closely linked to enka, a song style that developed in the early 20th century. Lately nagashi are rare but they may be spotted in the areas frequented by the older generation in Osaka, Tokyo and Kyoto, moving from bar to bar (usually singly) with their guitar taking requests for popular songs, particularly enka (hence the generational preference). They will either sing themselves or, more likely, play for customers who want to sing (they were a pre-cursor of karaoke). Formerly, nagashi were not the only wandering entertainers. Street musicians played enka for passers-by and storytellers with a picture box (often fixed to the back of a bicycle) told illustrated tales. Among the musicians were accordionists, and fiddle-singers playing 'violin-enka' well known for using their music as a medium for political subversion. Recordings of Japanese street performers are not very easy to find - the UK distributor Far Side have some.
Related post: Enka


Tokyo Kodomo Club 東京こどもクラブ 1965-80

Tokyo Kodomo Club (Tokyo Kids Club) 東京こどもクラブ 1965-80 produced records and books for kids with songs and stories from around the world, including the song London Bridge is Falling Down and Are You Sleeping (which I guess is Frere Jacques). Among the stories were an adaptation of Aesop's fable Town Mouse and Country Mouse called Country Mouse and Tokyo Mouse, Little Black Sambo and The Merchant of Venice. Two 'Folk for All' albums were produced containing: Danny Boy, Waltzing Matilda, Auld Lang Syne, Early One Morning, Rock-a-bye Baby and Greensleeves. For the full track lists click the links above.
A related article on this blog - Common Repertoire


British Songs in Japanese Schools 1962

Today in a second hand book shop I found a set of 3 thin textbooks from 1962 for the Junior High School curriculum (years 1,2,3) published by the Monbusho (Ministry of Education). They contain quite a few songs listed as Irish and Scottish (and Spanish, German and Italian) folk songs. The text is all in Japanese, including the lyrics (not translations but Japanese alternatives), but I could make out the tune of The Minstrel Boy and read Hotaru no Hikari (Auld Lang Syne), so I have had the set put aside. I am very excited and plotting to go through them with my fiddle and a wodge of post-its as soon as I can go back to the shop with my Y5,000 tomorrow. It'll be reinventing the wheel - there must be a list out there already - but I'll enjoy it.
By the way, this little experience really made me think about literacy - my reading of both Japanese and music is pretty basic but if I hadn't been able to read them at all I would have missed the opportunity altogether. There are always ads for EFL teachers like me to work on literacy programmes in Africa. At 43 I felt acutely the benefit of simply being able to read.
Bibliography: Western Songs in Japan


セシル・シャープのアパラチア民謡集 +++

Dear Companion: Cecil Sharp's Appalachian collection et al on this....
上のリンクで色々な音楽と歌の情報。。。man's blog.