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 Karaoke Parlors Sheer Torture For Some

Fears about performing in public often stem from a childhood incident at school, says an expert.
Asahi Shimbun


Karaoke started in Japan, but that does not necessarily mean it is the preferred pastime of all Japanese. On the contrary, there are people who are literally sickened by it and curse the day it was invented.

Hanako Suzuki (not her real name), for one, has a severe case of karaoke phobia. A 41-year-old civil servant living in Niiza, Saitama Prefecture, she had to be rushed to hospital five years ago because of it.

She was dining at an Italian restaurant with seven colleagues when she felt an onset of violent stomach cramps and nausea. Ashen-faced and breaking out in a cold sweat, she tottered into the ladies' room where she rested for a while. But her condition got no better, and an ambulance was called.

But by the time she arrived at a hospital, she had recovered. The doctor who examined her had no idea what brought on the attack. But Suzuki did.

Even in primary school, Suzuki dreaded singing lessons. She literally trembled in terror and humiliation whenever the music teacher made her sing before the class.

By the time she started working, karaoke bars were mushrooming everywhere. Whenever there was a company outing for dinner and drinks, the party invariably wound up doing karaoke. Each time she refused to take the proffered mike, she felt terrible about being regarded as a party pooper and killjoy. Before long, she began to experience nausea and stomach cramps from just thinking about the inevitable after-dinner karaoke parties.

``Since then, I have somehow managed to muster enough courage to sing karaoke with my family,'' Suzuki says. ``But with my colleagues? That's another story altogether. I can't stomach the thought.''

Yoshiyuki Ikoma, 60, also sings the karaoke blues, but for a different reason. Ikoma works in the sales department of a foreign airline and he says he had a bad experience with karaoke 10 years ago.

``It's not that I have anything against karaoke,'' Ikoma says. ``I'd love to be able to sing like everyone else, but I just can't carry a tune. For me, it's sheer torture to be forced to sing before people. I wish everyone would be more sensitive to the feelings of people like me.''

Ten years ago, he and 10 other airline salesmen went on an overnight trip with their customers. As expected, dinner was followed by karaoke.

Ikoma was content to just sit unobtrusively and listen to others sing. But then what he had always dreaded happened: someone handed him the microphone and wouldn't leave him alone until he had his turn. When he declined firmly, he was dragged onto the stage. He had to beg in abject supplication to be let go.

``They did let me go, but I obviously ruined the atmosphere. I felt terrible,'' Ikoma recalls. ``Still, I really believe that for everyone to have a good time, nobody should ever be forced to sing against their wishes.''

Tomokazu Tanaka, 24, also sings the blues when the subject of karaoke comes up. He began working as a civil servant in Osaka this spring and he still nurses an emotional scar from 14 years ago.

Tanaka harkens back to a singing test in his fifth grade music class. When Tanaka's turn came to sing before the teacher, he felt he was doing pretty well. But when he was done, the teacher's cryptic comment was, ``You are tone deaf.'' The whole class erupted in laughter.

``Even after all these years, I still get terribly upset when I recall the anger and shame I felt then,'' he says. 

Ever since that humiliating experience, young Tanaka began to dread music lessons. During a singing test in his first year at junior high school, he became so tense he could not utter a sound. He was severely scolded by the teacher, who thought he was being rebellious.

Now that he has started working, his worst fear is being asked someday to go to a karaoke parlor after work. 

So he will at least not humiliate himself again, he has secretly started practising singing at home whenever he is alone. 

``Of the roughly 600 people who have come to me for consultation so far, the great majority became aware of their `defect' in primary or junior high school,'' says Toru Yuba, a Mie University assistant professor and professional singer who has developed a unique voice training method to correct tone deafness.


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