EM Lynley: Karaoke, the Japanese Way

Jaded_medIn honor of my latest release JADED being set in Japan, where I lived for five years, I thought you would enjoy hearing a little bit about a musical tradition popular there.

I need to preface my discussion of singing with this: I can’t sing. I could be a professional non-singer because people would pay me not to sing. It’s particularly difficult (for others) because I love to sing. But I try to control myself where appropriate. For example, when I visited Shira, I made sure not even hum around her, because that might be as embarrassing as singing.

I was always a fan of karaoke, whether it was a group of friends singing at a bar’s karaoke night or at an office party. But before I moved to Japan, I had no idea there even was a Japanese way to do karaoke.  Actually, I have to take that back. I didn’t learn how different the Japanese approach karaoke until I lived in Japan.karaoke

I got my first taste when I worked for a Japanese bank in London. Being London, where adults like to drink and behave like college students, our bank had a raucous annual karaoke night. The staff was about one third Japanese and two-thirds Brits (and the occasional American or other national, like me).

The bank rented out an entire Japanese restaurant/bar for the event. It was a really nice place, with fantastic food and an open bar. The first thing the Brits did was grab drinks. Count me in that group. Once we had some booze and some food we set about poring through the huge book of songs to choose one. We wrote the song names on the little slip of paper and waited until we got enough courage to turn it in, knowing that was the point of no return. Once the DJ had your slip you were going to have to sing in front of your colleagues. Another drink or two would help ease the nerves before a performance.

As expected, the Brits (and I) were pretty sloshed when we got up to sing our songs.  Some of us sang in groups, others went it alone. The Japanese staff were appalled at our antics.

It wasn’t the drinking. Japanese can drink quite a lot at company events.

What upset them was that we didn’t take the singing seriously. You see, the Japanese staff selected their songs first and turned their slips into the DJs so they could sing early in the evening. Once they had performed, they could catch up on the drinks.

It wasn’t until much later I learned that nearly everyone who has to do karaoke in front of a crowd (as in being expected to perform at a company event) has one or two go-to songs. They take their performances incredibly seriously and (at least this generation) don’t consider it the time to let down their hair and wing it. My Japanese friends and co-workers told me they would go to the karaoke box (private karaoke rooms) and practice their song, over and over and over… until it was perfect.

I had never heard of such a thing. To me it seemed the opposite of what karaoke was supposed to be: a fun time singing favorite songs. For my friends, it was a chance to respect their colleagues with an enjoyable performance, and save face by not sounding terribly awful (or drunk).

My Japanese friends often chose a traditional folk song or ballad, one that showed off their hard work and practice, and one everybody knew. No J-pop or American songs. Song choice was almost as important as performance.

Ooops. I had to tone down my usual karaoke favorites: “Superfreak,” “California Girls,” and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”  Slow the tempo and turn the volume down, and it’s really obvious I can’t hold a tune. I pretty much gave up doing karaoke at company events until some friends offered to coach me.

But when you’re just hanging out with a group of friends—no work relationships at stake—then it’s as much fun as the American or British way. Anything goes on choice of songs, group singing and crazy stage antics. However, the more serious singers in any group still enjoy performing their signature songs to impress their friends.

How do you like karaoke? What are your favorite songs to sing, or are you too shy to perform for others? Leave a comment to enter the giveaway for the chance to win your choice of any of the Precious Gems Series Books. They are best read in order.

Jaded is Book 3 in the Precious Gems series, and released from Dreamspinner Press on November 22. It’s 30% off until Black Friday (November 29). Also available from Amazon, ARe and B&N.

Jaded_headerbannerGay-romance writer Trent Copeland finds his life in a rut while his boyfriend, Special Agent Reed Acton, is away on an undercover mission. After attending a special course at FBI headquarters in Quantico, Trent’s eager for another challenge. He jumps at the opportunity for a trip to Japan to oversee appraisals of two art collections to be sold at the gallery he co-owns. But the trip isn’t all cherry blossoms and Hello Kitty. When one of the collectors he meets—rumored to be the head of a Yakuza gang—turns up dead, Trent is accused of the murder and thrown in jail.

Reed drops everything to help find out who really committed the crime. He’s in unknown territory in Japan, forced to navigate Tokyo’s sex underworld to unravel the truth and save Trent. He poses as a “host” at a seedy late-night club. When Reed’s undercover activities place him at a ruthless Yakuza leader’s sex party, he must be willing to go to any lengths to secure Trent’s safety and freedom. But trusting the wrong people brings both Reed and Trent to the Yakuza leader’s attention. If they’re ever to have a happy ever after, they’ll first have to call on every skill just to stay alive.


About EM Lynley

EM Lynley, a Rainbow Award winner and EPPIE finalist, has worked in high finance, high tech, and in the wine industry, though she’d rather be writing stories where the hero gets the guy and the loving hits 11 on a scale of 10. She spent 10 years as an economist and financial analyst, including a year as a White House Staff Economist, but only because all the intern positions were filled. Tired of boring herself and others with dry business reports and articles, her creative muse is back and naughtier than ever. She has lived and worked in London, Tokyo and Washington, D.C., but the San Francisco Bay Area is home for now.

She is the author of Sex, Lies & Wedding Bells, the Precious Gems series from Dreamspinner Press, and the Rewriting History series starring a sexy jewel thief, among others.

Website: www.emlynley.com

Blog: blog.emlynley.com

Facebook: EM Lynley

Facebook: Precious Gems Series

Twitter @emlynley


  1. J.P. Bowie - Reply

    Had the pleasure of sharing a mystery panel with EM and Geoff Knight at GRL in Atlanta this year. Loved Rarer Than Rubies and I look forward to reading Jaded – the guys are hot!

    • EM Lynley - Reply

      Thanks for stopping by, Jamie. It was such fun doing the panel with you in Atlanta. I’m glad you are looking forward to further adventures of Trent and Reed.

  2. Susan - Reply

    I could give you a run for your money in terms of being tone deaf. However, I love music and have hundreds of CDs, two stereos, plus an MP3 player. To relieve stress, I often turn up the stereo and belt out my favorites in my living room, so I don’t break any eardrums.

    • EM Lynley - Reply

      Hi Susan,
      I totally identify. I especially love singing in the car.
      I think you are right that singing does relieve stress and release endorphins. I always feel so much better after singing my favorite songs.

      Current CD in the car is the soundtrack from the musical episode of Buffy, “Once More with Feeling.”

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  3. Andrea M - Reply

    I’ve only heard karaoke once and I’ll just say that the person singing could have been me – a tone deaf joke. There is no way I’d sing in front of a crowd. In my house where no one can hear – oh, yeah.

    • EM Lynley - Reply

      LOL Andrea. That’s where the alcohol comes in, if you drink. Everyone sounds better, or you don’t care as much.

      Thanks for commenting! Hope you like the Gems series.

  4. Trix - Reply

    I haven’t done too much karaoke, at least not since college! Hard rock gets a little intense for my voice, so I like vintage glam or bubblegum. T. Rex’s “Get It On” went over well one time, I remember…

    • EM Lynley - Reply

      Hi Trix,
      It’s fun with a group, and then you can let the others sing along! I love that T. Rex song. I’m going to be hearing it for three days now.
      Thanks for sharing!

  5. Jennifer - Reply

    I am the worst singer. I don’t think I could drink enough to get me in front of coworkers, friends or strangers to sing karaoke. I do love music, though, and sometime sing along to my favorite songs when I am alone or with my kids (who are also terrible singers).

    Thanks for the interesting story about Japanese Karaoke. I learned something today.

    • EM Lynley - Reply

      Hi Jennifer,
      I’m glad you enjoyed the posting.
      It’s interesting that everyone who commented says they are terrible singers. I am beginning to think the good singers are staying away, perhaps laughing at our fears.

      I am picturing you and your kids singing and it’s making me smile. Sounds like you all have fun together.


  6. Jbst - Reply

    I enjoy other people’s singing/antics and want to spare them my off tune singing in Karaoke. Interesting post about the cultural differences.

    • EM Lynley - Reply

      Hi Jbst,
      Join the can’t-sing club. There are a lot of us here. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for commenting today.


  7. Lisa - Reply

    I absolutely cannot sing worth a damn and would be too embarrassed to try. But my daughters love going to karaoke- there is a fun Korean place near us and luckily they can carry a tune. I am looking forward to the next chapter of Reed & Trent’s story. Loved the first two!

    • EM Lynley - Reply

      HI Lisa,
      So nice to see another fan of Trent and Reed. Thanks for letting me know you like the first books. I think you will enjoy Jaded a lot.

      How nice that your daughters can sing and entertain you. What do they like to sing? I’ve noticed kids and parents always have very different taste in music!


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