Japanese Adult Learning: Karaoke Naraigoto

Hideo Watanabe

PhD Thesis. 2000

There has been a dramatic jump in the number and involvement of Japanese adults studying karaoke, i.e. karaoke naraigoto, in the last decade. Housewives and retired people enjoy karaoke learning in groups at community centers, private institutions, and karaoke bars. Compared with traditional forms of naraigoto such as Noh chanting, karaoke naraigoto offers more freedom, simplicity, and is less expensive. This newer form of naraigoto makes students' participation in the social world much easier. Karaoke naraigoto is based on students' interests and spontaneity, and thus is not "education" but "learning." The learning is self-directed, generative, and dynamic, and as a multi-purpose activity, it allows students many individual benefits. Students participate in various activities, experience different worlds, and consequently establish a new sense of identity. These characteristics of karaoke naraigoto perfectly match current Japanese adults' interests and make the learning very popular.

Karaoke naraigoto represents a successful reconciliation of individual expression with group conformity. On one hand the Japanese value cooperation, harmony, and solidarity, with group behavior being a significant part of Japanese life. On the other hand, respect for individual idiosyncrasies is also pervasive among the Japanese. They perceive that the postwar education's emphasis on individualism and egalitarianism has increased their interest in and respect for the individual. These opposing values are well blended in karaoke naraigoto where Japanese adults apply individual interests onto a group environment, and individual benefits are better achieved by collaboration. This grafting of innovation onto a traditional and formalized learning system reflects adults' increasing appreciation of individualized and egalitarian types of social affiliation in the Japanese society.

Fifteen months' fieldwork in Yokohama included participant observation and semi-structured and unstructured interviews at eight karaoke settings. A quantitative survey of over 370 informants in Yokohama and Nishio provided data about the commitment to karaoke and karaoke naraigoto in large and small city environments. The observation of traditional forms of naraigoto and the related semi-structured interviews produced data to compare with karaoke naraigoto and were helpful in defining its nature.