My Night as a Diva

Only in Japan, folks. (photo courtesy of girl fantasies aside, I’ve always been shy. For a long time, the only thing worse than speaking in public was having to sing in public, i.e. at those end-of-the-year parties I had to attend while working at the Board of Education in a small Japanese town. I didn’t know many of the songs on the karaoke machine because they were in Japanese. There were some Beatles hits and Carpenters classics, but that’s about it.

I sometimes sing while listening to music, or when I’m by myself, doing something mindless, but I don’t regularly hang out at karaoke bars. My daughter, however, wanted to go. She enjoys trying out her rock star moves while attempting to follow the lyrics on the TV screen during music shows. To be honest, she’s not good at singing, but she has a good time.

My son likes to sing, too, and I can often hear him when he’s plugged in to his iPod, wailing away. He’s started going out to karaoke boxes with his friends. I’d heard rumors that he was pretty good, that he’d gotten nearly a perfect score on “Let it Go.”

When my husband suddenly suggested going out for karaoke last week, I thought it might be fun. The kids would enjoy it, and we’d be doing something as a family. I was pleasantly surprised that my son was willing to go with the rest of us.

We went to a karaoke club and rented a box (a room with a table, sofas, and a karaoke machine) and started picking out songs. A lot had changed since my last trip to karaoke. Instead of looking through a song book, there was now an electronic device that seemed to have every song in the world.  Also, the machine rated each performance.

My son, with his renditions of hits by Exile and One Direction, had the highest scores, and we started re-thinking his future. Maybe he had potential as a pop star. My daughter tried the theme songs to her favorite anime shows and stayed above 50 points. We realized it was a good exercise in reading and in voice control. My husband sang some Japanese songs that I didn’t know, and I tried “Rill Rill” by Sleigh Bells  “Come See About Me,” by the Supremes, for which I got one of the highest scores of the night.

Two hours and about 8,000 yen (approx. $80) later, our time was up. As we got ready to leave, I thought about how I would practice my Beyonce for the next time.








Ghosts in the Water

A couple of years ago, the Center for Communication for the Disabled (or something like that) was constructed across the river.  Though I’d heard about the facilities, which include table tennis for the blind and a pool, I’d never been there.  This summer, however, students at the deaf school were invited to several play sessions with deaf volunteers.  It’s actually a sort of babysitting service to give parents of disabled kids a break.  Since respite sounded good to me, and since swimming in the pool with people who are good at sign language seemed like fun for Lilia, I signed her up. 

I packed up Lilia’s swimming gear this morning and got everyone into the car.  We found the place after driving in circles for awhile.  (Japanese roads don’t usually have names, so all I had was a map with intersecting black lines and a few landmarks.)  Lilia’s teacher was volunteering today.  She met us in the parking lot and told us that the pool is closed just for today.  See, it’s Obon, the time when the spirits of the dead return.  Apparently, they come via water, and if you go swimming on this day, they may try to drag you under and take you back to the Land of the Dead. 

Needless to say, Lilia was disappointed, but she had a good time making origami animals, drawing pictures and racing around in her wheelchair.  She even did a little homework.


Yesterday I skipped the arduous pool cleaning session at my son’s school in order to attend a lecture at the Deaf School. It was given by a young deaf woman who works at the school’s dormitory. Her talk was directed toward the junior and senior high school students, but there were many teachers and mothers in attendance.

Her story was a familiar one: Deaf child is integrated into regular schools. Child doesn’t understand everything that’s going on, but manages to get by. Child goes to college and at last meets deaf peers. Child finds tribe! Child (now young adult) learns sign language. Child wholeheartedly enters Deaf culture. Hearing her speak reinforced my conviction that the School for the Deaf is the best place for my daughter. I can understand parents wanting their children to learn to live in the hearing world, but as a non-native speaker of Japanese, I know how stressful it is to not be able to understand half of what is going on. I am most at ease when I am with my foreign English-speaking friends, just as Lilia is most at ease when she is around people who can use sign language.

The young woman also told the students that they need to speak up when there’s a problem, and explain to hearing people what they feel and how they can be helped. I thought this was sage advice, and also interesting because Japanese culture teaches people to be patient and silent in enduring hardship – gaman.