In Japan, everybody does karaoke.
Unlike here—where the stage is often occupied by a) a drunk guy unironically, and very emotionally, singing Creed; b) a group of drunk girls in tube tops singing "We Are Family"; or c) a drunk woman who can sing like Xtina, but answers phones at State Farm—the private karaoke rooms of Japan make everyone feel safe enough to sing.
During the year I lived there, I shared karaoke booths with a group of middle-aged salarymen in suits (they were partial to the Carpenters), a gaggle of giggly college students (the Spice Girls' "2 Become 1"), and khakis-wearing off-key housewives (mostly Japanese love ballads), and met a 40-year-old mom who spent some evenings singing by herself to escape her children.
After one particularly loud, sweaty night of karaoke with friends, I stumbled onto the street around 4 a.m., energized by the cool air and my lingering tall-can beer buzz. The street looked completely abandoned, and as I began my short walk home, I put in my earbuds and cued up the Avett Brothers' "Colorshow." It was one of those beautifully rare moments when life felt perfect and present. I walked, with a big, stupid grin on my face, belting out the lyrics at the top of my lungs:
Be loud! Let your colors show!
Try to keep the madness low!
He seemed to come out of nowhere: a cute, lanky, Japanese guy with a rare smattering of tattoos and a smile as big as mine. He trotted up beside me, and without saying a word plucked an earbud out of my right ear and placed it in his. We grinned at each other. He only said one word: "Good!" I nodded enthusiastically. We walked down the middle of the empty street, shoulder to shoulder, grinning like loons, listening to the music. When we got to the end of the street, we parted, and I skipped the rest of the way home.
There are now a handful of places to do Japanese-style karaoke in Seattle (see box), which is a perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon or a drunken evening, hopefully sans Creed.