ANU School of Music Research Seminar: Benny Tong

ANU School of Music Research Seminar: Benny Tong

The ANU School of Music Research Seminar is the premier forum for academic staff, invited guests and postgraduate researchers of the ANU School of Music to present their work. This seminar will feature Benny Tong.

Serious Leisure in Old Age: Karaoke Classrooms and Kissas as Sites of Everyday Elderly Living in Urban Japan

Being an avid karaoke singer, I was intrigued when I came across what are known in Japan as karaoke classrooms and kissas (a bar/café hybrid), during my periods of fieldwork in Tokyo and Osaka in 2013 and 2016. In my regular visits to these places, I watched and participated in their singing over the microphone, and chats and laughter with each other over drinks. Their vivacity and enthusiasm was far removed from the doom and gloom that Coulmas (2007) notes characterises many media and academic accounts of elderly life in Japan.

As Bennett (2012) and Koizumi (2013) argue, popular music matters as a cultural resource through which older people can negotiate personal and collective identities as they age. I situate karaoke activities at the classrooms and kissas within the concept of “serious leisure” elaborated by Stebbins (2015), to highlight the long-term and invested engagements through which participants have developed unique individual and social identities. Through a discussion of participant-observations of karaoke sessions at kissas and interviews with key karaoke participants, I identify the themes of romance, learning, the mundane and the extraordinary as narrative frames through which we can understand the bodily, identity and social aspects of life in old age. Through my research, I hope to paint a livelier picture of elderly life in urban Japan, by not treating old age simply as a crisis to be solved, but also as a period of life that can be negotiated proactively.

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