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Clipped From The Los Angeles Times
Prime Minister Sings Along Japanese Bars Have Chorus of Fans By SAM JAMESON, Times Staff Writer TOKYO-When Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone was In South Korea last year, he impressed his official hosts by singing two traditional Korean songs. The Incident may or may not have set a precedent in the world of diplomacy, but it says a good bit about life in Japan these days. Everyone, It seems, has taken to singing and in public. According to one estimate, 90 of Japan's bars and nightclubs now encourage their patrons to perform. The patrons, among them sedate businessmen in their middle years, seem only too happy to oblige. And the phenomenon is by no means limited to the saloon set. The singing craze Is just as evident in the home, both on the farm and In the city. Behind all this, perhaps predictably, Is an electronic device the tape recorder. With a touch of a button, the recorder instantly produces the musical accompaniment to any of a variety of songs. The patrons, provided with songbooks, provide the voice. Words and music come out of the speaker together, and the result can be pleasing. Whether it is or isn't, Japanese are fighting to get their hands on the microphone. On several occasions, the fighting has ended in homicide. No one knows precisely how the karaoke ikara empty; oke orchestra) craze got started. But according to people in the recording Industry, it began drawing attention in 1972 in the Kansai area around Osaka. Today it is a big business, with sales of tape recorders, tapes, microphones and related equipment running to more than $600 million a year and growing. Yuklo Nakajlma, an official of Nippon Columbia, said the other day that karaoke equipment can be found in more than 500,000 bars and nightclubs nationwide and in hundreds of thousands of residences. The fad has also caught on overseas, where Japanese bars In Los Angeles and elsewhere use the system. The equipment has only been on the market for eight years, yet home sales reached 1.4 million last year. The equipment is now In about 13 of all Japanese homes. Another Nippon Columbia official, Tomoyuki Takcoka, said that karaoke now accounts for nearly half of the firm's earnings from tape and record sales. And there has been considerable spinoff. Television stations are conducting nationwide contests, people arc opening singing schools, even taxicabs are Installing karaoke equipment. Traditionally, the Japanese arc not given to entertaining at home, but karaoke has changed that, too. The karaoke party haB become something of a fad, In rural areas as well as In the cities. At least five Japanese companies arc trying to export karaoke to the United States, but so far it has caught on only In American bars that cater to Japanese. Still, one American businessman, Dallas real estate man Randy A. Wlnskl, predicts that karaoke will flourish In the United States. It already has in his neighborhood. Winski took home two karaoke machines and tapes, with American songs, one for his family and one for the family next door. "My neighbor's wife Is Just crazy about it," he said. "She sings all the time." At home, most American executives probably wouldn't be caught dead singing outside the shower. But here they find It difficult to say no when they're on the town with Japanese colleagues and arc asked to sing. Sometimes it takes three PImm tee JAPAN, Page 2