Page last updated at 09:31 GMT, Tuesday, 19 May 2009 10:31 UK

Flu prompts karaoke boom in Japan

Sign at a karaoke club (file image)
One club owner said students turned up as soon as schools were closed

Students from schools and colleges in Japan shut down over fears of swine flu have been flocking to karaoke clubs to fill their new-found free time.

The students were told on Monday they should stay at home if possible, but some club managers said they were busy as soon as the closures were announced.

More than 4,000 schools, colleges and nurseries have been shut temporarily in Hyogo and Osaka prefectures.

The move was made as Japan confirmed more than 170 cases of swine flu.

"We suddenly had a number of high school students after 2pm yesterday, right after the announcement that schools would close for a week," one club manager in Osaka told the AFP news agency.

Most Japanese karaoke clubs are a collection of private rooms which can be rented out by groups, and the manager said every room in his club was full at one point on Monday.

"I'm expecting something similar today," he said.

"I don't have the right to say 'you should stay at home'."

Turned away

But another Osaka club manager, Yoshikatsu Ishida, took a different view of the sudden surge in business.

He told AFP about 10 different groups of high school students had turned up at his club wanting to sing but he had turned them away when he found they had been told to stay at home.

Japan confirmed dozens of swine flu cases over the weekend, pushing the total to more than 170, the highest number outside North America.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura told a news conference on Tuesday that the country needed to prevent further spread of the infection but also to "maintain public activities".

Japanese officials have said they are phasing out quarantine efforts at points of entry to the country and focusing instead on domestic transmission.

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