The Real Folk Blues

“I was in love once,” I sigh,
far too much time has passed me by

An uproar in the karaoke box.
Drunk gaijin are indulging gleefully in the wonder that is nomi-houdai.
People know this song? People other than me?
I was surprised but nothing was stopping my performance.

My first few weeks of living in Nagoya were filled with meeting new people and adapting to life away from Australian shores. I was prepared to be seen as different; as a high school student, I had lived in Japan as well, where I was the only non-Japanese person in my class. I was not prepared to find an amazing group of peers from all over the world with whom I had so much in common—in particular with singing at karaoke.

We all bonded in a great many ways, over the novelty of living in a different country, festivals, travel, food, work gripes, but the fondest memories always came from singing songs together in the cheapest karaoke box we could find.

"Only the Brits are gonna know this one! Where's another Brit?"

Lyrics from Chelsea Dagger by the Fratellis start rolling across the screen.

"I know this song—it's a classic!" an Aussie shouts.

Excitement and bellowed singing ensue as a song hailing from the hills of Glasgow bring people from opposite ends of the world together. There's a scramble to find out what other songs we have in common and what new favourite songs we can inflict on each other.

I had been hesitant to queue up a Japanese song in a room full of non-Japanese speakers. I was worried that singing in another language would be seen as showing off or worse, that I would kill the cheerful mood in the room by playing an unknown song. Personal experience had taught me that that if you excel at something, you would make others feel inadequate, so the worst thing you can do is be proud of it. But my desire to sing it (and maybe the hope that everyone had enough drink in them to forget) won out, and I snuck it onto the playlist. To my great pleasure, I found that my fears were unfounded, my skill that I had worked hard and long to refine, and my passion was seen as inspiring (”non-Japanese people can learn to speak Japanese!”). I was able to sing my little heart out to a wonderfully receptive audience.

Zombie by the Cranberries, I want to be Evil by Eartha Kitt along with a small repertoire of Japanese songs quickly became known as my karaoke staples, and, for me, the night felt incomplete if we hadn't all wailed, arm in arm, Oasis' Champagne Supernova.

And since the Real Folk Blues, the emotion-packed ending theme to the short but brilliant anime Cowboy Bebop, was such a hit, I turned to another anime classic; zankoku na tenshi no tehze—better known in English as Cruel Angel Thesis from Neon Genesis Evangelion.

At 6 am we would blink in the glaring daylight, stumble home and look forward to doing the same again the following week.

This article was first published on 17 May 2017