Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: A few sips of hydrogen beer enables Japanese karaoke nuts to sing soprano parts and shoot blue flames out of their mouths at dramatic moments.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1994]
Origins: Initially making the rounds in 1994, this bit of fiction is still in circulation on the Internet and continues to pop up in the media. Additional spurious details about an injured participant engaging in a lawsuit against the brew's manufacturer and a karaoke bar were added to the story in late 1998.
Folks will believe most anything, provided someone sticks "AP" at the front of it. Though it was decked out to look like it, the above wasn't a real wire service story. (Even so, this tale has suckered a fine selection of highly-respected newspapers, including The New York Times in March 1996, the Boston Globe in November 1997, and The Washington Post in September 1999. It has also appeared in a widely-used introductory-level college chemistry textbook.)
There is no Asaka Beer Corporation. Due to tight government regulations, there are only five beer companies in Japan: Kirin (40.6% market share), Asahi (37.6%), Sapporo (15.8%), Suntory (5%) and Orion (1%). Nor is there a Suiso beer. Both these names are made up, nothing more than wonderful bits of embroidery employed to give a fanciful tale an aura of believability.
Proving yet again that no story is too good not to be improved upon, the following version appeared in inboxes everywhere in late 1998:
TOKYO (AP) The recent craze for hydrogen beer is at the heart of a three way lawsuit between unemployed stockbroker Toshira Otoma, the Tike-Take karaoke bar and the Asaka Beer Corporation.
The Asaka Beer corporation brews "Suiso" brand beer, where the carbon dioxide normally used to add fizz has been replaced by the more environmentally friendly hydrogen gas. A side effect of this has made the beer extremely popular at karaoke sing-along bars and discotheques.
Hydrogen, like helium, is a gas lighter than air. Because hydrogen molecules are lighter than air, sound waves are transmitted more rapidly;
The flammable nature of hydrogen has also become another selling point, even though Asaka has not acknowledged that this was a deliberate marketing ploy.
It has inspired a new fashion of blowing flames from one's mouth using a cigarette as an ignition source. Many new karaoke videos feature singers shooting blue flames in slow motion, while flame contests take place in pubs everywhere.
"Mr Otoma drank fifteen bottles of hydrogen beer in order to maximise the size of the flames he could belch during the contest. He catapulted balls of fire across the room that Gojira would be proud of, but this was not enough to win him first prize since the judgement is made on the quality of the flames and that of the singing, and after fifteen bottles of lager he was badly out of tune."
"He took exception to the result and hurled blue fireballs at the judge, singeing the front of
"The laws of physics are not to be disobeyed, and the force that propelled
"The Tike-Take bar takes no responsibility for the subsequent internal combustion, rupture of his stomach lining, nor the third degree burns to his oesophagus, larynx and sinuses as the exploding gases forced their way out of his body. His consequential muteness and loss of employment are his own fault."
Mr Otoma was unavailable for comment.
As well he might be, since he doesn't exist. There's still no Suiso beer, no Asaka Beer Corporation, and certainly no such lawsuit. The names used in the piece give an additional clue to its being a leg-pull: Takashi Nomura and Toshiro Mifune are both actors in classic Japanese films, and Otoma comes from Katsuhiro Otomo, a modern director.
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