11 May 2010

Toastmasters: Singing the J-Way

Today was another round of Toastmasters. Apparently, upon speaking to a friend, I had not made it clear what is the purpose of the club. The idea is to become a better public speaker. Every week, members are assigned different roles. There is a grammarian, an MC (called the Toastmaster), a timer, speakers, and evaluators of the speakers. There are other roles, but that is the gist. Lately, our club has not had enough members attending, so often we do double duty. (For example, today I gave a speech and I evaluated the other speaker. Often, the timer will also be the grammarian.) 

I was somewhat ready to speak today in that I had a speech written, but it was not as well-rehersed as I would have liked. I was not on the schedule to speak, but I think it is great practice and have resolved to be ready in case a speaker cannot attend. Today, unfortunately, I woke up with a mini-migraine, which made it difficult to memorize my speech. (Perhaps you will recall that last week I mentioned that I have difficultly memorizing speeches. It is something I am aware of and trying to improve upon.)

This week's project, #4, was "How To Say It." The objective of this presentation is to "use clear, accurate, descriptive and short words that best communicate your ideas and arrange them effectively and correctly." You should not use jargon or those big, "college" type of words. The idea is good, punchy content. 

I tied for best speech evaluator, and I won for best speaker. Yay! As a note, I do not vote for myself. I abstained from voting for both the speeches and the evaluations. I find it so interesting that I keep getting voted best speaker. (Yeah, I know it's only out of two, but still, it's a great feeling and very encouraging.) Thus, I am four for four. 

Here is my speech with comments from fellow members to follow:

Singing the J-Way

I’m sure you’ve all heard of those wacky, drunk Japanese business men getting crazy and crooning away the wee hours of twilight after some big pow-wow at the office. Ties around their heads, getting naked, and pounding the sake away as if they would never have to see their colleagues ever again…well, not until tomorrow at 8 am at least. Yep, you guessed it. It’s karaoke.

Some of us would probably rather commit “harry-carry”(that’s 腹切りin Japanese) over karaoke any day of the week. Even us Toastmasters. But, the difference in American style karaoke and the J-way is vast.

As you already know, the American version of karaoke is a rather humbling, or even humiliating, experience. Generally, you sing in a bar comprised of a motley audience, mostly strangers. If you aren’t the next Beyoncé, chances are nobody will appreciate your (coughing) lack of talent. If you don’t know the song well, aren’t well practiced, you’re probably going to have a very traumatizing realization the next day in the midst of your bottle flu episode.

In Japan, there are chain stores that are dedicated to Japan’s national past time of chanting J-pop tunes, aka places like Jumbo Karaoke or Jan-Kara for short. Upon entering your local Jan-Kara enterprise, you will be greeted with the cutest little Japanese girls that are eager to help you get sorted. First, you must choose between Drink Menu A and Drink Menu B. Essentially, one is non-alcoholic and the other is well loaded with choice beverages such as barley soda, bottom-shelf whiskey, chu-hai, and sho-chu, which is a hard liquor that comes in varying degrees of quality.

After you and your troop has decided upon what drink to be served first, you are given a basket usually containing a tambourine, an electronic remote to select your songs, and, if you’re lucky, an English song book. You are then shuffled along a narrow hallway and shown where you’ll be getting trashed for the evening. Always note your room number, unless you don’t mind stumbling into a room full of naked business men.

Your room will vary in size with in terms of your group. The one thing, at Jan-Kara, however that seems to remain constant is the décor. The walls are inevitably plastered with plastic-y, 70’s-esque wallpaper. There is a built-in air conditioning/heating unit. There are bench seats upholstered in industrial strength, never-gonna-die vinyl. Near the door is a telephone as to order more intoxicating refreshments. Libations, as it is well known, must be paid to the all-powerful karaoke god. The table will become littered with dead soldiers, possibly cigarette butts, half-eaten portions of smiling fried potatoes, various menus, and, if nobody is looking or to drunk to remember, one or even both of the devices used to choose the songs will be laying in front you so you can choose another song.
The tv’s are Jan-Kara are not top of the line like at some more up-scale karaoke lounge, the microphones have cords, and the newest English songs usually date back five or so years, but it’s cheap. It’s hard to argue with all-you-can-drink liquor, singing 80’s songs, and even getting a slight physical workout. At the end of each song, the screen shows how many calories you just bellowed off, but it doesn’t include how much you danced during your solo.

One of my favorite aspects to Jan-Kara is the shoddy karaoke videos that accompany each song. If you were to sing a Japanese song, it is very likely that you would also get to watch the real music video that the artist produced. That is certainly not the case, however, with the English tracks. After viewing hours of shaky, low budget cinematography, sometimes bordering on soft-porn, you really probably need to ply yourself with more of those liquory libations. The karaoke god can be very demanding on his followers. I try to take it in stride as I belt out with my amigos some Guns-n-Roses as the night wears thin.

And suddenly in the middle of your duo of “A Whole New World” from the Disney soundtrack, everybody swaying in time and singing along with you and Aladdin, the phone rings. Nobody wants to answer it for 3 reasons. #1 the front desk person will be speaking in Japanese #2 even if your Japanese was decent, it’s impossible to hear over Jasmine’s shreaky, drunk voice #3 they will be asking if you want to stay or go. (Imitating the Clash) Should I stay or should I go now???? If I go there will be trouble, and if I stay it will be double.

Stumbling home after a rousing round of J-style karaoke makes you never want to return to the American style. You bonded with friends over drinks, bad singing, possibly even nudity, and won’t probably have a remorseful hangover of how stupid you looked or sounded. The J-singing-way reigns supreme even at your local, ghetto Jan-Kara. Jan-Kara, 行きましょうか?Let’s go to Jan-Kara!!!!

  • "Excellent, well done, amazing for a new Toastmaster. Keep up the good work."
  • "Loved how you opened and gave us the difference between karaoke in the U.S. & Japan. Enjoyed your pronunciation of Japanese words. Great descriptions of atmosphere, vocal variety, eye contact, & gestures. Great close!"
  • "Good job, Beckie. Great adjectives (I) can totally see the rooms....Good job moving from the podium. Excellent job!"
  • "No um's or ah's. Nice job. I like your descriptions, your pace, and your vocal tone was great."
  • "I liked her flow. I thought she moved about a little too much."
  • "Did a great job to keep attention to the audience. Fun topic to hear about."
Essentially, as pointed out in my evaluation, I need to ditch any use of notes. I did move away from the podium, but still looked at my notes. I probably moved too much, as one person stated. My mentor told me after the meeting that I should try to memorize the beginning and the conclusion. As for the middle, just get a feeling for the time, which will take away my crutch use of notes and the podium. 

Honestly, I am never sure about where to stand or how much to move. During the MBA, we told by our instructors from the Dale Carnegie institute not to move. At Toastmasters I am told to move, but apparently should not move too much. I need to find a balance...and, well, stop using notes and probably ditch the podium. 

Onwards and upwards! Oh, and next week I am scheduled to speak. I am working on project #5 already. Whew!


Post a Comment