In Japanese working culture, going out and partying with your co-workers is a big thing. Like many things in Japan, it can be a very ritualistic thing. The opening and closing comments (which often feel more like speeches) are a necessity surrounding the multi-course meal, there is typically a lot of pouring drinks for one another, and it’s a sanctioned space where it is okay to speak frankly with your colleagues in ways you’d never usually have a chance to do at the office. American work places often have office parties as well for special occasions, but the stark difference in how you socialize in each setting is not as apparent.
That said, your boss is your boss outside of working hours as well. No matter how drunk either of you might be at the party or even more de-ritualized nijikai (after party), there is still a certain level of decorum to maintain. Even if you run into your boss on the weekend, or ten years after you no longer work together, that sort of decorum never goes away. Decorum does not mean stiffness, though. Your boss, or former boss, might show you the zaniest time at a rowdy dinner or sudden karaoke outing.
For many working adults, the past month or so has been filled with these sorts of parties, especially since there are many going away parties and welcome parties that fit in alongside the start of the new Japanese fiscal year on April 1. Some particularly high-up people look completely wiped out by the time they get to a mid-month party because they’ve been at this for days straight, and their position makes it difficult for them to turn any invitations down.
Thankfully, at least in my position as a CIR instead of a normal public employee who has signed up for a lifetime of civil service, dinner usually wraps up at the two-hour mark, and the nijikai bar outings are typically easy for me to turn down if I don’t feel like it or if I’m tired. However, karaoke is different. I have to be seriously wiped out or have a terrible schedule conflict to turn that down.
To conclude, here are just a few things I wish people would understand about karaoke:
1. It’s kah-rah-OH-keh, not KER-ree-OH-kee. Where does that ree even come from? “Ra” does not say “ree.”
2. You don’t have to be drunk, nor does this have to take place in bars. (I have always done it fully sober.)
3. Typically, it is done in private rooms for you and your friends instead of singing in front of a room full of people you don’t know.
4. That means you don’t need to wait through song after song of people who are drunk and terrible before finally having a chance to sing your warm-up song.
5. This may be because I typically go with people who enjoy it as much as I do, but most people I’ve heard sing are not tone-deaf.