My Cardboard Box

A Day of Whiskey and Tobacco

with 3 comments

There was a decided conspiring tone among the group at what had to be our fourth or fifth bar. I was only one who didn’t speak Japanese (Jock and Ian did) so I contented myself with watching flushed, inebriated salarymen gesticulate at each other while working on yet another three-fingers worth of  Suntory. Then Ian whacked me on the shoulder and shouted in my ear.

 “Quit yer woolgatherin’ – we’re leaving!”

 “Where’re we going?” I asked him once we were outside in the drizzle and waiting on the minibuses. The hotel, maybe?

 “Karaoke!” There were huge grins, clapping and chatter from the others.

 Oh, crap.

 Japanese guys on a night out, back in the late 80s at least, at some point went to a place that had karaoke. Our guide had obviously arranged for the ichi-ban. The one we went to sported a sound system that was an audiophile’s wet-dream. There was a low stage complete with lights, a slick energetic middle-aged emcee accompanied by a cute ‘deejay’, and a huge screen hung on the back wall that showed images cued to the song. Ian told me there were ‘R’ rated versions they could play, but they weren’t on that night. And, lucky us, we had tables not far from the stage.

 Japanese guys on a night out back then also didn’t sing “party music” karaoke; the more melancholy or dramatic the song, the better. Something like ‘My Way’ – either Elvis or Sinatra .You could request a song or let the girl pick one for you. There was an applause meter and you got ranked. The crowd would also buy the singer drinks if he was especially good, like pulling off a real tearjerker.   It was a competition, and you only got one round to prove yourself.

It turned out to be a blast. Some did well on the music, some on emotion, some on style. Quite a few were really good, but many were so drunk the fun was in watching the attempt. There was a reason why the stage had a ramp rather than stairs. It was like a musical airshow, where you waited for the crashes.  Jock, our quiet expat Brit, had a surprisingly smooth voice.  One of our Japanese (I think the brother of the groom) apparently imitated one pop singer so well that his table was crowded with drinks, which were passed around with much cheering to the rest of us. Everyone in the place took, or had to take, a turn.

You guessed it…

The emcee asked my name twice, said “a desu ka” and announced it, followed by some quick patter that got laughter from the audience. Our group cheered. The DJ, seeing that I wasn’t going to ask for a song, sized me up, went to her console and pulled up this:


 Maybe it was having watched that video four times over Christmas liberty while house-sitting with a Buddhist ghost. Maybe it was having a voice stained by a day of whiskey and tobacco. Maybe it was because the reasoning part of my brain was lying passed-out and cuddled up to the lizard part. Maybe it was that it had been six months since I’d left her at the airport and five months and a week since I’d told her answering machine that I loved her.

 I nailed it.

 “Where the fuck did that come from, mate?” Ian demanded when I finally made it back to the table.

 “Dunno,” I replied as I watched trays of glasses show up. “Guess I said ‘hell with it’ and went along for the ride”.

 “You’re seven!” I must’ve looked stupid because he pointed at the scoreboard. Seven indeed, misspelled name and all.

 I’m told I ended up in ninth place. Somewhere in a box, I have a tie to prove it.


Written by PappyBro

May 12, 2013 at 08:55

3 Responses

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  1. That was glorious, Pappy. May I share it with td#2, who returns from an 8-month internship in Japan on Saturday?

    trailing wife

    August 13, 2013 at 12:14

    • Yes, please. Though it might be a dated observation (early 90s.)


      August 13, 2013 at 18:46

      • Not to mention that you were a fully grownup sailor, and she is a college girl gaining work experience for later. 😉 Nonetheless.

        trailing wife

        August 14, 2013 at 08:21

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