Stranger Singing In a Strange Land

Participants in Yugata Don! Don!

I received an e-mail notice that a local TV station was looking for foreigners to enter an international singing tournament on one of their programs. Well, I'm a foreigner and I sing, so I e-mailed back. Within two hours, someone from the TV station had come over and was interviewing me about being on the show.
It's an early evening program whose target audience is young homemakers. It includes introductions to restaurants, cooking, crafts, and the like. They also feature a karaoke corner in which 2 contestants sing the climax of a popular song, generally, of course, in Japanese. In our case, it was to be in English.
They had given me a list of the songs that were among those we might have to sing (we didn't get to choose), but I hardly knew any of them. I begged my college students to lend me CDs of any they had, and I received a whole stack. My little darlings really came through for me!
The first day all 12 of the foreigners were on, had a short interview, and sang (what else) "We Are the World." Then each day, two of us would "compete," each singing the same song, after which three judges would decide on the winner for the day. The winner would then go on to compete again until the final day when the champion was chosen (the grand prize being a trip to Tokyo Disneyland, something I did not covet).

Participants in Yugata Don! Don!

My first round, I thought, would be a cinch because they gave me the Whitney Houston song from the Bodyguard, "And I will always love you." It's one that's in my repertoire. In fact, I've sung it at weddings. Not only that, but my "opponent" was to be a graduate student from Nepal, Gonesh, who was tone deaf. Well, the day before my turn, I found out that the other singer had been changed to a young woman from Chile with a really beautiful voice, so I thought, "Well, that's it. Would have been nice to win at least the first round."

Yosakoi Rehearsal

The day we sang (on the rooftop of a department store because a yosakoi dance group was also performing), it was about 5 degrees. We were all freezing but, of course, couldn't show that on TV. Unfortunately the Chilean, Adrianna, wasn't familiar with the song and hadn’t had enough time to practice. She just fell apart. I won!
The next piece, they told me, would be "Can't take my eyes off of you." It wasn't on the list! I didn't have the CD for it, it had been years since I had heard it, and I had never sung it. They only gave me the words, so I checked out a CD rental shop but they didn't carry it. I was finally able to get a synthesized version of the melody off the Internet.
Then they told us that it was decided the next round would be sung in Japanese instead! Apparently they thought it would be entertaining for the viewers to see the foreigners trying to sing popular Japanese songs. We protested (I thought of the huge stack of CDs at my apartment lent to me by my students), but to no avail because it had apparently been decided by the producers, whoever or wherever they were.
I finally convinced them to let us at least sing "Can't take my eyes off of you" for the second round since I had already spent a lot of time practicing it. I happened to find out what the Japanese song for the third round would be, so was able to practice that as well with a friend of mine from the chorus. She coached me on just the right interpretation (it was the sorrowful song of a woman whose lover had left her, never to return - very Japanese).
Meanwhile, I had to have a short meeting with the announcer to decide what we would discuss in our brief two-minute interview. I had some stories all ready, one about my stay in a Japanese hospital and another about my calligraphy. He listened with a half-interested look on his face, and then asked me if I could eat Japanese food. I couldn't believe it! I've lived in Japan for 12 years, and he wanted to ask the same question I've had to answer 1000 times (no exaggeration), so I just replied that Americans could eat anything. We finally settled on my comparing Japanese wedding receptions, which are solemn occasions with long speeches, to American receptions where there's dancing, talking, and lots of fun.
I continued practicing how I would sing for the second round, the movements I would make, and all. Thought I had the song down pretty well, and the other singer this time was an 18-year-old from Russia, Natasia, (a senior at Hokkaido International School where some of my friends teach) who had a hard time staying on key. What's more, she was really unsure of herself and had a cold that day.
I lost! One of my friends from the chorus, who had seen the program, said that I wasn't projecting very well. I thought it was because I'm not accustomed to the mike and wasn';t holding it close enough, which was true. After watching the video, I realized that it was also because the pitch was set really low, just right for the average voice but not for a soprano.
In the third round, the Russian was easily beat by an Australian, singing a Japanese song. However, I was sorry I had convinced the TV producer to let me sing in English for the second round because I think I would have done the Japanese one better!


Oh, well, I won around $50 plus some cute presents (a stuffed toy of the program's mascot [see photo above] and a small clock/radio that looks like a miniature computer). The announcer at the studio also said I had looked really cute. (One of the first word any visitor to Japan learns is kawaii or "cute," but that's a whole other topic.)


I also had the pleasure of meeting the delightful enka singer/teacher, Namerikawa-Sensei.

CA with Namerikawa-Sensei

She wears a different, generally outlandish outfit on every show, and I had thought of her as something of an oddball. In person, however, she is warm as well as energetic. A few months later I had the pleasure of singing in a special dinner show put on for her fans.
Some day you may have a chance to watch the video and see for yourself the experience of a stranger singing in a strange land.




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Last updated May, 2000.