We Need To Talk About My Osaka Karaoke Experience

intense singing. with strangers.
Intense singing. With strangers.

It’s no secret I enjoy a good karaoke night with friends, but it turns out there’s a semi-private karaoke experience — with strangers — I enjoy just as much.

Last weekend in Osaka my friend Sarah and I stumbled upon several bars of the same type: They are sorta-divey, narrow spaces — only as wide as a tall man’s wingspan, a single, sit down bar that seats maybe 12 people, tops, and three bartender women who serve you sake, beer or liquor while you and your barmates sit around and take turns signing karaoke selections which appear on the two screens in front of you. (The bartender ladies make sure to offer you the remote and song book at frequent intervals so the singing doesn’t cease).

You just drink and sing, and smoke, since it’s allowed in Japan, with strangers in a super intimate setting. Or you can ignore everyone and stare straight ahead, since it’s a bar and not a living room setting, like private karaoke rooms (which are far more common across Asia). But everyone applauds you at the end of your selection, these bars are full of men but non-suggestive bartender women, and you end up feeling a general sense of community in a short amount of time. I need to know what this bar concept is called!

a stirring rendition (at least to us) of  "moon river" with our new (and only) osaka friend.
A stirring rendition (at least to us) of “Moon River” with our new (and only) Osaka friend.

We befriended the Osaka man who happened to be seated next to us, and he humored me by singing the Japanese cliche, “Sukiyaki,” because it was the one Japanese song I could think of. I returned the favor by selecting “Moon River,” with which, for some reason, all Asians I’ve ever karaoked with are familiar.

The best part of the evening was, after we were three bottles of sake in, the bartender ladies passed out karaoke snack sticks for everyone. I think it was like a Funyun, but in the form of a cylinder, and wrapped in cute Doraemon packaging featuring little Doraemon holding a microphone singing. They come in onion or curry flavor (among others) and they were DELICIOUS. Sarah was most excited about the snack.

WHAT ARE THESE BARS? I don’t know the Japanese name for them but there’s gotta be a name for this type of experience, since while wandering the area near the Tennoji Zoo (parts of it can be kinda sketchy by Japan standards), there were several of them in a row. At first we were intimidated about wandering into one, namely because they were so small that it seemed unnerving, and because all the customers were men and the bartenders were women. But nothing even remotely weird or sexual seemed to happen while we were there. It was just a good ol’ time, making new friends. Definitely one of my top nights in Asia.

the curly haired man on the end there ended up singing a queen song for us, which was pretty crazy.
The curly haired man on the end there ended up singing a Queen song for us, which was pretty crazy.

Bounce Bounce Bounce Bounced To Miami For My Birthday

michael and chris have become two of my closest compadres in my thirties, so i feel so lucky to have spent my b-day with them.
Michael and Chris have become two of my closest compadres in my thirties, so I feel so lucky to have spent my b-day with them.

My semi-annual trip to Miami for my side-hustle collided with my birthday weekend. Just like I like it, absurdity ensued.

I’m really fortunate to have a crew of brilliant and hilarious friends down in the 3-0-5, so Friend Chris organized a whole day/night featuring my favorite activities: beachtime, sunshine, pooltime, delicious cocktails, celebrity sightings, Justin, meat and cheese, Korean liquor, the 90’s and private karaoke. These are some things that happened:

just seeing the glowing orb they call the sun was pretty amazing.
Just seeing the glowing orb they call the sun was pretty amazing.

Justin, my partner-in-crime, came down for the shenanigans and while we were catching up at Starbucks, Jesse Something, The Bachelor circa 2004, walked in. He’s still on TV as an ESPN commentator, and he paused at the sugar/cream station and kept looking at me as if he either knew me or was waiting for me to realize who he was, but it took me too long. Wah-wah. I didn’t get to invite him to my birthday party.

After getting drunk on the beach thanks to a pitcher of some refreshing vodka concoction, we decided to do some poolside time at Soho House even though the water was flooded with children. I looked left and BAM! Spotted Sofia Coppola reading a magazine just a few chairs down from us. I was too chicken to say anything to her, so Justin and I took weird surreptitious photos. Then we noticed her husband — the lead singer of Phoenix — and her daughters, playing in the water. We avoided taking sketchy photos of the kids.

the coors light ladies gave us free bead medallions which i will treasure forever.
The Coors Light ladies gave us free bead medallions which I will treasure forever.

Tim Elfrink (who just won a Polk Award, woot) lives in Miami, and our mutual Mizzou friend Nick was also in Florida escaping DC’s wintry gloom, so they joined in on festivities. We started at a divey pool bar with excellent cheesesteaks and $5 drinks.

We got some ridiculous Coors swag and posed with the beer girls. Then we had to drink some free Coors Light.

Tucked away in our private-karaoke room by midnight, these are some of the selections performed by the group to celebrate the 1990’s, my halcyon days of youth:

“Birdhouse in your Soul” They Might Be Giants
“Spiderwebs” No Doubt
“Always be my Baby” Mariah Carey
“The Sign” Ace of Base
“Livin’ La Vida Loca” Ricky Martin
“Man in the Mirror” Michael Jackson
“Callin’ Baton Rouge” Garth Brooks
“Unpretty” TLC
“Too Close” Next
“Mmmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” Crash Test Dummies
“Thong Song” Cisco

so much fun.
So much fun.

Despite four attempts by different people, the song system was unable to choose R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)” which is infinitely superior to what kept coming up — just plain ol’ “Ignition.”

Karaoke participants — on four separate occasions — chose R. Kelly’s “Ignition,” which is an inferior song that is most definitely not the catchy, viral “Ignition Remix” of 2003. Then I came home and discovered Jimmy Fallon had sang it for us.

While squished on our leather karaoke room couch for 12, pal Michael and I went through two and a half bottles of soju on our own. I think Justin enjoyed his own bottle on the other side of our karaoke coffee table. He nursed a hangover for two days, since we started drinking some kind of refreshing vodka stuff around 3pm that afternoon.

rebekah monson is my favorite new friend of 2013. we killed it on some garth brooks together.
Rebekah Monson is my favorite new friend of 2013. We killed it on some Garth Brooks together.

There is something involving 3am sandwiches at some famous place on South Beach, but I don’t remember it clearly except that Justin awoke the next morning with two of those sandwiches in bed with him.

On the actual night of the birthday, Michael Maness took me out to a smokey dive bar where he got to control the jukebox. Yes, there was David Allan Coe. And yes, we did stop to eat 1am Cuban sandwiches on the street. Happy birthday, indeed.