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Home --> Humor --> Jes' Plain Jokes --> Karaoke Dokey

Karaoke Dokey

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.

Status:   False.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 1994]

January 1, 1994
TOKYO (AP) — Here in the chic pubs of the Aoyama district, the latest fad inspired by beer makers struggling through a sluggish economy is the flammable suds of the new Hydrogen Beer. The latest craze among the environmentally conscious crowd of twentysomethings, the "Suiso" beer made by the Asaka Beer Corporation has been 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; individuals whose lungs are filled with the nontoxic gas can speak with an uncharacteristically high voice.

Exploiting this quirk of physics, chic urbanites can now sing soprano parts on karaoke sing-along machines after consuming a big gulp of Suiso beer.

The drink comes in a transparent hexagonal bottle imported from the maker of the new American drink, Zima," according to Hideki Saito, marketing director of Asaka Beer Corp. While the bottles are imported from Tennessee, the labels are made with a 100% biodegradable polymer. The bottle caps are equipped with a safety valve to prevent excess build-up of pressure in high temperatures.

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 took place in pubs everywhere in Tokyo on New Year's eve.

So far, Asaka beer has insisted that the quantities of hydrogen used in the drinks is too low to create potential for bodily harm. In the factory, the carbon dioxide that is dissolved in the beer is partially extracted and replaced with hydrogen gas. Mr. Saito maintained that the remaining carbon dioxide mixed with hydrogen prevents the rate of combustion from increasing dramatically. Carbon dioxide is a nonflammable gas that is naturally contained in the exhaled breath of humans.

However, the company has hesitated from marketing the product in the US due to legal complications.

Each bottle of Suiso beer sells for approximately 1,200 yen, or 11 US dollars. The bottles are packed in special crates lined with concrete to prevent chain explosions in the event of a fire.

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 Karaoke singer 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. Mr Otoma is suing the bar and the brewery for selling toxic substances and is claiming damages for grievous bodily harm leading to the loss of his job. The bar is countersuing for defamation and loss of customers.

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;
individuals whose lungs are filled with the nontoxic gas can speak with an uncharacteristically high voice. Exploiting this quirk of physics, chic urbanites can now sing soprano parts on karaoke sing-along machines after consuming a big gulp of Suiso beer.

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 has no-one to blame but himself. If he had not become drunk and disorderly, none of this would have happened. Our security guards undergo the most careful screening and training before they are allowed to deal with customers" said Mr Takashi Nomura, Manager of the Tike-Take bar.

"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 Mrs Mifune's hair, entirely removing her eyebrows and lashes, and ruining the clothes of two nearby customers. None of these people have returned to my bar. When our security staff approached he turned his attentions to them, making it almost impossible to approach him. Our head bouncer had no choice but to hurl himself at Mr Otoma's knees, knocking his legs from under him."

"The laws of physics are not to be disobeyed, and the force that propelled Mr Otoma's legs backwards also pivoted around his centre of gravity and moved his upper body forward with equal velocity. It was his own fault he had his mouth open for the next belch, his own fault he held a lighted cigarette in front of it and it is own fault he swallowed that cigarette."

"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.

This newest version makes more of a story out of the tale, turning what purported to be a staid news article about a karaoke innovation into a bemusing report about yet another silly lawsuit. Merely the mental picture of a drunken Japanese hurling blue fireballs at the judges who'd passed him over is enough to keep one entertained for hours.

Karaoke is weird enough without anyone having to blow blue flames as part of it.

Barbara "Molson Dry wit" Mikkelson

Last updated:   7 October 2006

Urban Legends Reference Pages © 1995-2014 by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson.
This material may not be reproduced without permission.
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  Sources Sources:
    Pollack, Andrew.   "Fleeting Fame Sells in Asia . . ."
    The New York Times.   11 March 1996   (p. D1).

    Reucroft, Stephen and John Swain.   "Dinosaur Birds."
    The Boston Globe.   3 November 1997   (p. C4).

    Schwarcz, Joe.   "Hydrogen, the First Element; What a Blast!"
    The Washington Post.   8 September 1999   (p. H1).

    Zumdahl, Steven and Zumdahl, Susan.   Chemistry.
    Boston; Houghton-Mifflin, 2000   ISBN 0-39598-581-1   (p. 524).

    PC Week.   "Spark Me Up."
    18 April 1994   (p. A5).


  Sources Also told in:
    Fiery, Ann.   The Complete and Totally True Book of Urban Legends.
    Philadelphia: Running Press Books, 2001.   ISBN 0-7624-107404   (pp. 77-80).