One of the most surreal aspects of modern Japanese culture is karaoke. It's definitely a mainstream activity and a booming business, with new karaoke-kan springing up all the time, and certain streets where you can't walk five meters without hitting yet another one. There are the chains, which all have about as many branches as a Starbucks (including two of the same brand virtually across the street from each other near Roppongi Crossing, which is one of the major karaoke venues). There are small, nameless establishments which simply proclaim their existance with the simple word KARAOKE, four letters in Japanese. Then there are the deluxe party joints, which are often on the fringe between ordinary Japanese other-planetness and the kind of fetishized wierd that fills an entire subculture here (and not one I've ever explored). It's fun to venture to the edge sometimes, though, and once again, it was an office party that gave me the chance to experience FIORIA.
FIORIA bills itself as a place to enjoy fine dining, and its website devotes all its space to food and rooms, each with its own "atmosphere." (The English page is one of the most entertaining I've come across, and the photos of the rooms, under the "Saloon" menu, are almost as good.) As the infamous "love hotels" have a similar attention to fantasy decor, this is where we start to pick up a warning sign. In fact, as you enter FIORIA, which is on the third and fourth floors, you go up a red-carpeted stairway. This leads to a hall where Christmas-light-wrapped trees glitter below iron chandeliers, and the walls are of faux-castle masonry. Our room (not the room with a footbath, sadly) had a somewhat volcanic feel to it, with a glowing red circle in the ceiling, red tables, and rough gray fake rocks looming out of the ceiling.
The food, so vaunted on the website, wasn't bad - certainly better than the usual karaoke-room fare. We got a set course menu, though there's a la carte available as well, and it's a sort of fusion between Japanese and Italian (this is FIORIA, after all). The fancy "antipasti" tray in the top photo was followed by huge platters of salad (most of the dishes were served family style, though the secretaries in attendance immediately took it upon themselves to dish up the individual plates and serve everyone else). Next came a fried piece of fish with a spicy mayo sauce and some sugar snap peas, stylishly clipped on the diagonal. The second photo, a chilled vegetable soup with croutons, cheese, and a swirl of olive oil, was next, and it was almost like a liquid salad. Then there was the steak, then an eggplant pasta with far too many noodles in proportion to the vegetables. Last were the tiny dishes of frozen fruits in jelly and mango-sauced panna cotta below. They look big in the photo, but that's a wide-rimmed espresso cup, and they were much smaller than they appear. Naturally, this being Japan, it was all-you-can-drink for the three hours it took to serve the full menu.
I've never really liked the combination of dinner and karaoke - it's hard to sing while eating, after all. I can't drink much, either, especially since I don't need my inhibitions lowered any more than they automatically become as soon as I have a captive audience encouraging me. On the other hand, maybe it's good to have the distraction of food to prevent my spending the entire night hogging the mic. I have to say that for all its fancy decor and Italianesque menu, FIORIA's music system isn't the most exciting. The videos are mostly the usual, eighties-era silliness that you see in almost every karaoke place, and the system doesn't have the largest collection of songs. Still, where else can you sing and dine in style in a room that looks like the inside of a volcano - or even, if you like, a room with a footbath?