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OCTUBRE 23

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Pop Culture in Japan: Karaoke



The Japanese were partial to a good singsong long before karaoke, literally meaning "empty orchestra", was invented, possibly by an Osaka record-store manager in the early 1970s. The machines, originally clunky eight-track tape players with a heavy duty microphone, have come a long way since and are now linked up to videos, screening the lyrics crooned along to, and featuring a range of effects to flatter the singer into thinking their caterwauling is harmonious. Not for nothing have karaoke machines been dubbed the "electronic geisha".

In the mid-1980s, the whole industry, which earns ¥1 trillion a year, was boosted by the debut of the karaoke box, a booth kitted out with a karaoke system and rented out by groups or individuals wanting to brush up on their singing technique. These boxes have proved particularly popular with youngsters, women and families who shied away from the smoky small bars frequented by salarymen that were the original preserve of karaoke. Amazingly, research has shown that the introduction of karaoke has coincided with a significant drop in the number of drunks taken into protective custody by the police, salarymen drinking less, rather than more, as they relax over a rousing rendition of My Way.

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