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Caught In The Act Karaoke E-Zine

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Karaoke: The Ticket To Good Health

Karaoke has been a favourite way to unwind from the stress of work for almost three decades for ordinary Japanese, but it also has an unsung role as therapy for psychiatric patients."Love is dynamite," Juko Kobashi, 39, warbles timidly in a karaoke box -- a private room with karaoke equipment seating about 10 people -- in northern Tokyo's Ikebukuro quarter.

Kobashi is the most shy among her group of patients. She keeps her eyes fixed on the screen, intent on not skipping a single word as the lyrics scroll across.Her three companions ignore her, lost in concentration as they pick out the next song they want to sing, and content themselves with the obligatory clapping at the end of her performance.

Kyoko Komami, 31, is quick to choose, selecting a hit by the French female singer, Elsa, and singing along in French using Japan's 'katakana' phonetic syllabary even though she cannot speak the language.

Komami is a regular at the day care centre looking after psychiatric outpatients on a non-residential basis. The private clinic is run by psychiatrist Noboru Hozumi, who opened the first such facility in Tokyo about 20 years ago.

"Our centre looks after groups of people, sent to us by doctors and psychiatrists, throughout the day," said the centre's director Shirota Haruo.

"None of our patients are able to work. They are emotionally fragile, and some of them have more serious psychiatric problems," said Yoko Shikano, another member of the centre's staff.

The centre offers its patients a range of activities including dance therapy, acting and learning English, but it is the karaoke session every Friday morning that Komami and her companions like most.

"You can really enjoy yourself in a small group. On one's own, it's boring, but the group has to be chosen carefully because if you end up with people who don't like the same songs it can become a problem and people can end up becoming even more introverted," said Yatsuko Ono, 38, one of the patients.

Haruo said the object of the karaoke sessions "is not to change the patients' behaviour -- that's impossible -- but rather to allow them to enjoy themselves in a comforting environment."

"They don't go to karaoke to listen to the others sing but to have a good time singing the songs they like. In fact, although they think they are taking part in a group activity, it's mainly a form of individual therapy," the director said.

"At first, we organised karaoke sessions at the centre, but the patients found it boring because of the limited choice of songs, so for the last three years, we've been bringing them out to a real karaoke club, three minutes' walk away," said Shikano.

"Karaoke is a form of recreational therapy which effects mood and enables patients to release their emotions and satisfy their narcissistic impulses, while helping them articulate their feelings through the words of the songs," said psychiatrist Masami Sakaue who specialises in music therapy.

Karaoke, which means "empty orchestra" started with music-only tapes and a tape player with microphone sing-along machine produced by a record store owner in the 1960s.

The concept was quickly taken up by bar owners and spread nationwide in the 1970s. It has gone from strength to strength and has been exported around world.

In the last decade or so, it has enjoyed a renewed boom with the introduction of the "karaoke bokkusu" (box) where small groups of friends eat, drink and sing in sound-proofed private rooms that have gained in popularity over bars with only one machine and an audience of the entire clientele.

"The confined space of the box and their subdued lighting lend themselves to a certain intimacy. People feel safe there, and can let go little by little," Sakaue said.

Copyright Caught In The Act Karaoke E-Zine 2005


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