Shingo (one of the Japanese staff at Hopi Hills) is very much looking forward to showing us a good time at a Japanese karaoke bar. Helena is driving us there and she makes it clear she wants us all awake on the drive home so that she doesn’t nod off. Despite my best efforts to get out of it, we arrive at the bar, 8 of us ready to sing some songs in our private karaoke booth. We take a seat in the bar area and after a few minutes of Tessa attempting to order a whisky and coke, I keep it simple and order a bilu (beer). The place is really smoky and it’s almost like we’ve gone back in time to how pubs and bars used to be before the smoking ban.
A microphone and a kind of karaoke tablet turn up at our table, and we soon realise we’re not having our own private booth. Any singing will have to be done in front of all the Japanese people already here, all enjoying a nice quiet drink out at their local. This is my first experience of karaoke, I guess as an introvert it’s just not an activity on the bucket list and it’s something I’ve managed to avoid for 37 years.
After Tessa kicks us off with an opener, then Helena selects to sing “Pray” by Take That. She is horrified to hear that most people in our group have never even heard of Take That. She is going to educate them on that.
I’m not much of a movie buff as I said, and I’m not much of a music buff either. I float an idea with Helena that I’ll sing some Adele. “Strong choice,” she says, “good luck with that!” Aware of all of the pseudo X-Factor judges sitting around me, for my first gig I opt instead for “Hakuna Matata” from the Lion King. At least I can put on funny voices for Timon and Pumba and I have an excuse if it’s then terrible. The song is the original version, but I somehow manage to throw in some extra words from the Disney animation ad lib “Hey Pumba, not in front of the kids…. Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase…”
As our friend Doirreann once said “Simon is like an extrovert trying to get out of an introvert’s body.” Now whether or not that is true, after the event I do feel quite good and I think about doing another song. Meanwhile the two extroverts team up to deliver the next song. Helena and Tessa give us a rendition of Spice Girls – “Wanna Be”. Helena knows all the moves and all of the words come to think of it. At the end of the song the video screen shows you the amount of calories that you’ve burnt through singing. I don’t think this takes into account Helena’s extra dancing – “slam your body down and wind it all around, slam your body down and wind it all around” is delivered with true gusto. Despite my newfound Spice Girls education, I still don’t have a clue what a “zigazig ah” is.
We each add our song requests to the tablet and they get added to a queue. We alternate songs in the bar between our group and the local Japanese men who are also drinking here. It turns out they haven’t all just come here for a quiet drink. The Japanese men love to sing a ballad and they belt it out like their life depended on it. One man is sitting at the bar singing, the pained expression on his face is something to behold.
Whatever Japanese people do, they seem to do it with passion. Take the guy in the staff canteen blowing his nose directly into the sink that was designed (I assumed) for handwashing. Several good snorts later and he seems to be happy with his freed up nasal situation. I think if there was any coronavirus in him, it’ll now be somewhere in the plumbing system of the building. I catch the eye of someone else in the room and we are just laughing. Clearly and thankfully this public nose clearing is not a custom in Japan. Whether it’s nose blowing or karaoke, they give it their all.
In the bar it’s all you can drink for 20,000 yen, so the bilu keeps on flowing. I order a sake, and it comes in a massive glass, far bigger than any spirit you would get back home. I sip away at it painfully and as I near the end of it, Joe, one of the staff says “Another pint of sake mate?”. “Maybe just a half pint” I say, I’m joking of course, I’ve had enough Japanese rice wine for one night.
One of the French volunteers, Chanelle, takes the microphone and sings along. Except this time the song is in Japanese. This kind of blows us away as we hadn’t realized her Japanese was this good! As she finishes, the locals in the bar break into rapturous applause, with a few bowed heads thrown in for good measure. My rendition of Hakuna Matata did not receive a standing ovation like this. Sad times.
As the karaoke draws to a close, Shingo takes us to a bar nearby. Pretty much all the people in here appear to be young Australian men, barely out of high school. One of the girls points out that all the guys have moustaches and that they look the same. We’re not in November so they haven’t even grown the taches for charity. Earlier in the day I had shaved my beard, leaving just the moustache to see how it looked. For some reason this did make me look a bit Australian; perhaps it was just posing with a shovel on my shoulder that gave me that rugged Aussie look. After introducing myself to one of the European guests staying at Hopi Hills, from my accent they did not believe that I was from the UK and that I must be Australian. Crikey I thought! My moustache had to go, for fear of Immigration not letting me back in to Blighty.
On the drive home, Helena has her wish granted and everyone is very much awake all the way home. Somebody starts a game “There were two on the back seat of the bus…”, eventually this song builds up to six people on the back seat of the bus. It’s all turned a bit raucous and while Helena keeps her steely attention on the road, I think she wishes everyone was asleep now. We get back to Hopi Hills way past our bedtime and we’re glad to be scheduled for a day off. The French staff have to be up at the crack of dawn to clean out the ducks. C’est la vie.