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Innovative firms giving the inhibited plenty to shout about

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Kyohei Ishii sings “Koi” in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, while voice trainer Miyuki Okubo, left, provides instructions.

By Kyohei Ishii / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterThere are many people who are bad at singing or delivering speeches in front of others. You can count me among them.

Recently, I visited some schools that help adults overcome their bad singing and stage fright.

One such lesson, part of a course to train tone-deaf people, was held at a rental studio in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo. The course itself is part of a karaoke training program provided by Big Smile Vocal School.

I’m so tone-deaf that I break out in a cold sweat whenever I’m asked to go to karaoke by people I get to know through my activities as a reporter.

But I managed to persuade myself to knock on the door of this training session. And the song I chose to practice with was “Koi” (Love), a chart-topper last year by popular singer Gen Hoshino.

“Make sure to synchronize with the first word!” said Miyuki Okubo, 42, a voice trainer at the session. She also instructed me visually, using her entire body.

After some vocal exercises, she taught me some of the basics of singing, such as the various pitches of the lyrics, strong and weak tones, and the pronunciation of vowels and consonants. She had me repeat the same phrase many times.

“Musically challenged people come in all shapes and sizes,” Okubo said. “But there are techniques that can help fool the audience into thinking they’re singing well.”

For an hour, I continued singing while paying attention to her instructions. I felt like I had acquired some skills.

Kenji Ogura, 41, a music producer who established the training school in 2011, said he himself was not great at singing. Going to karaoke with friends had been painful for him, so he opened the training school for people with the same problem.

Currently, about 80 percent of the students at the school are enrolled in the tone-deaf course.

“There are many people with painful experiences of karaoke, like me,” Ogura said. “I want to help them.”

There are also many people who worry about speaking.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    A participant in a speech training course in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, delivers a three-minute speech about a season he likes.

Nihon Communication Gakuin (Japan Communication College) Group, based in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, provides a beginner course that is popular with people who have a hard time speaking in front of others.

The course is nicknamed “Agarisho Senmon Hanashikata Kyoshitsu” (Lectures for people who are painfully shy about how to speak).

Two men took part in the lecture course, which started shortly after 7 p.m. on June 6. After vocal exercises, one of the participants delivered a three-minute speech about a season he likes. The other participant made a summary of the speech, and then delivered a one-minute speech.

A 45-year-old company employee from Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, who took part in the course said he resigned from his previous job because it was too stressful to explain about the company’s businesses to officials from an administrative office.

He switched to an information technology-related company, where he does not need to meet with clients outside the office.

But now, he occasionally has to make presentations at work. Thus, he began attending the speech training lecture.

“I want to be able to speak well in front of others and utilize those skills at my job,” he said.

Nihon Communication Gakuin also offers training courses in which participants practice for situations such as drinking parties and match-making parties to look for potential spouses.

“In this internet age, people have less time for chatting with others, and so more and more people find themselves unable to make small talk,” said Michio Sakai, 58, president of the corporation that runs the school.

Karaoke parlors that cater to people who want to do hitori karaoke (karaoke alone) are perfect for practicing singing and speaking. More and more such facilities have been cropping up lately.

I entered one of them — 1Kara Shinjuku O-guard parlor in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. Inside, there were rows of small rooms measuring about 1.2 meters by 1.2 meters.

The rooms, designed for one person, are equipped with karaoke equipment and a chair. And because they are soundproof, there was no need to worry about anyone else. The atmosphere was like the cockpit of a spacecraft.

I practiced “Koi.”

I sang at the top of my lungs, and for the first time understood the joy of singing.

There are currently 11 1Kara chain parlors, mainly in Tokyo. They are used not only by people who want to fully enjoy singing alone, but also by those wanting to practice giving speeches.

“I hope people use our parlors more and more to overcome their difficulties,” said Daiki Yamatani, 34, an official of the company operating the 1Kara chain.

As I worked on this report, my sense of being bad at singing — something I have held onto for many years — started to wane.

There are many kinds of schools for adults, including for learning to ride a bicycle or using computers.

Age doesn’t matter, and it’s never too late to learn anything. What is important, I feel, is to simply be a little braver.Speech

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