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Strange new world April 3, 2006

Posted by ayasawada in Culture, Japan, Personal.
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I went out with the (ex)EIC lot for Lina Saigo’s birthday on Saturday night. As usual, we’d decided on karaoke for the main event, but because of numbers, Brian had booked somewhere a bit different from our ‘usuals’. The place he booked was Karaoke Epoch on Brewer St, Soho.

If you know Brewer St, you’ll know it’s a strange mix of sex shops at one end, followed by the Vintage Magazine Shop, some fashion stores, cafes, a couple of restaurants and a Japanese supermarket. In amongst this weirdness is a dodgy looking Japanese bookstore with manga in the shop window. Heck, they never even bothered to change the sign: it still says ‘Laundromat’ in blocky 70s text. I’ve always known this as the ‘weird Japanese bookshop’ that happens to sell old manga, posters and Jpop CDs. This time I noticed the small handwritten sign in Japanese on the door: Karaoke inside. So this was the ‘hidden karaoke venue’ I’d heard so much about.

The staff are always very suspicious of foreigners (despite the fact that they are in London and, indeed, in the main part of town). Brian was initially told ‘no Karaoke’ and it was only on phoning up that he secured a booking (on the reassurance that he could indeed speak some Nihongo and was bringing some natives with him).

Step through the looking glass and you find yourself transported: five rooms in a corridoor the spitting-image of anything in Japan. Glass doors, sofas, an authentic Ukara karaoke system and telephone directories of up-to-date Jpop hits. Absolutely surreal. It’s BYO alcohol and snacks though, so not the same authentic service but this explains a little the secrecy behind the operation. For one, they are obviously not licensed, to the extent that we had to sneak out quietly at midnight from behind a black sheet (I kid you not). Secondly, this is clearly part of the ‘secret Japanese community’ available to Japanese expats in the UK.

I find this kind of secret activity absolutely fascinating. I’ve heard tales of bars with secret handshakes and geisha brothels available to salarymen if you know someone who knows someone who gives you the password. Most foreign communities have these kinds of things (secret locations, not brothels), so it’s not uniquely Japanese (though it does fit the isolationist culture). We had a great time, if only because it was ‘exclusive’. Now about that brothel….

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Comments»

1. k-li - April 3, 2006

Now that sounds fun!!!!!!

That shop is a bit creepy….


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