It’s Friday evening in Shibuya. The sun is setting, the neon is flashing and the crowds are swelling. And so with beginning-of-the-weekend fever in the air, it is perhaps little surprise that Madonna is already blaring in one karaoke room on the second floor of a building near the station.
It may not yet be 7 p.m., but three revelers in particular are having a ball: one is shaking a tambourine, another is frantically pressing buttons on the track machine and a third is standing on the fake red-leather banquettes waving his arms in the air.
So far, so Friday night. Apart from one critical detail. These three enthusiastic karaoke singers are not students, salarymen or housewives. Nor are they inebriated as a result of the temptingly cheap all-you-can-drink offer. They are, in fact, babies.
As offspring make the transition from stationary infants to hyperactive toddlers, the number of places where their exhausted parents can take them to play often becomes increasingly limited. When my baby first arrived, one of the most pleasurable activities was spending hours in cafes with other mamas, eating cake and swapping notes on motherhood — ideally with at least one peaceful stretch of a sleeping baby strapped to my chest within the normal feeding-screaming-nappy-changing cycle.
But now, one year on, the babies are becoming increasingly mobile. Cafes are fine if there are baby seats into which they can be strapped so they don’t charge around causing havoc (until, of course, they finish eating, scream until they are let out and then charge around causing havoc). The space and freedom of inner-city parks are ideal until the weather becomes too hot and humid to bear and the mosquitoes start dive-bombing babies with military precision.
And so it was that karaoke rooms came to mind as the perfect baby venue. One recent Friday evening, my baby daughter Kiko Blossom and her two friends Koko and June — plus their mothers — headed into a karaoke space on Dogenzaka in Shibuya.
It seemed a little surreal at first to be in a brightly lit space associated with my pre-pregnancy days — namely, a venue I would normally have found myself in late at night and after a drink or two.
But fortunately, staff did not bat an eyelid when we presented ourselves with a flotilla of buggies and babies — they even offered to store the buggies in the back and helped with some of our bags as we made our way to our room.
Here the babies were released and cooed with instant delight as we handed them each a tambourine and attempted to work out how to input the songs into the machine (some things never change).
Then, the real fun began. Koko’s brave mom launched proceedings with a soulful rendition of a Walt Disney track, to the fascination of the babies who were still trying to work out whether to eat or shake their tambourines.
Soon, the moms were off on full pelt, and a medley of Madonna, Belinda Carlisle and — an unexpected baby hit — Bjork, was unleashed on the three children, who thankfully loved it. Pausing only for a quick baby-feeding session, an hour passed just as quickly as it used to in the middle of the night, and soon the phone was ringing telling us our time was up.
Packing up the babies and their scattered debris as we prepared to leave, we all judged the mission a success — with the only caveat being the fact that the floor was not so clean, so we made a mental note to bring a plastic mat next time.
But the best was yet to come. After an hour of fun, we were presented with an astonishingly low bill: around ¥800 in total for all six of us, including soft drinks. Who said Friday nights with babies can’t be fun?
We visited Uta Hiroba (www.utahiro.com; 03-3780-9771) at 2-16-7 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku. It costs ¥140 per 30 minutes before 6 p.m., ¥320 for 30 minutes after 6 p.m. Monday to Thursday, and ¥420 after 6 p.m. Friday to Sunday. Tip: It’s worth bringing your own baby food and a mat to put on the floor, as it may not always be sparklingly clean.