One of the most popular forms of entertainment in Japan is karaoke. It involves singing songs with the music playing in the background while reading lyrics from a screen display. Karaoke bars are typically open from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 a.m, with extended hours on Friday and Saturday evenings.
History of Karaoke
The name karaoke has its origins in the Japanese words ‘kara’ meaning empty and ‘oke’ meaning orchestra. Japan’s karaoke industry is a big business and Japanese young and old alike love spending a few hours in a karaoke establishment for fun and relaxation.
The exact origin of karaoke remains unclear, but there are some Japanese theories about how it began.
Karaoke in Japan began when a singer named Inoue Daisuke first built a similar machine. Same as today’s karaoke, the machine played his records without his voice. He would rent the machine to hotels and bars and let other people sing. It said that he never registered the machine as an invention of his own.
In 1975, a Filipino inventor named Roberto del Rosario also created a similar system known as “Less One”. Many people say the patent for this machine is the same as today’s modern karaoke machine.
Although the tradition of Karaoke began in Japan, it is now enjoyed in almost every part of the world.
Modern karaoke in Japan
Anyone visiting Japan will easily find a number of karaoke establishments all over the country. There are bars, clubs, and cafes that incorporate karaoke as a form of entertainment. Many individuals or small family-owned karaoke bars are also present.
So, what does a modern karaoke establishment in Japan look like? Interestingly, it is quite different from Western karaoke.
In Japan, there are multiple karaoke boxes or private rooms for visitors. These rooms are equipped with microphones and a karaoke player. The music selection is usually quite vast, with Japanese as well as English, Chinese, and Korean songs available.
Some karaoke establishments also let you control the room lights. You can change the lighting effects to follow the rhythm of the music. This makes for a more fun experience where singers feel like they are performing on stage.
In your private karaoke box, you can order drinks, snacks, and food. You can place orders via a phone connecting you to the reception desk.
You can also find old-fashioned karaoke establishments in Japan. Here, the participants sing in front of a crowd in a private area. These are usually small drinking places that can be found in entertainment districts.
Where to find karaoke in Japan?
For foreigners, it is recommended to visit the most prominent karaoke chains as they have updated music selections with more non-Japanese songs. Some of the popular chains include Big Echo, Cote D’Azur, Karaoke-kan. and Shidax.
Pricing of karaoke in Japan
The prices of karaoke will vary according to the place you visit. Usually, you are supposed to pay per person on a half-hourly basis.
The prices generally start from 100 yen in off-peak hours and can go up to 400 yen during premium hours. Peak periods usually begin every weekday after 7 pm and go on for the rest of the weekend, as well as on national holidays.
An all-you-can-sing option is also available for a fixed rate during peak and off-peak periods. The prices start from about 500 yen during off-peak hours and around 2500 yen during peak hours.
You can make reservations in advance but this is not mandatory. However, you should be prepared for a long wait on weekend evenings and on national holidays. Depending on room availability, you can also request extensions to your ending time by paying additional charges.
Food ; drinks charges with karaoke
Many karaoke bars have their own food and drinks menu for a separate cost. Customers are typically not allowed to bring their own. Menu selections usually have select soft drinks, tea, coffee, or juices available. Alcoholic beverages are also commonly available with 飲み放題 nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink) offers.
The menu usually has a wide selection of food, from appetizers to pizza to yakitori. You can make your order using the telephone in your private room.
Generally, there are additional charges to get an all-you-can-drink offer. Sometimes, the bar will require a minimum order per person where you have to order at least one drink. This usually costs around 400 yen, roughly 4 dollars. If you explore your options well, you can find some places offering all-you-can-drink plans for the same price.
There are cheaper places where you can get free drinks and better deals as well. カラオケの鉄人 (Karaoke No Tetsujin) and 歌広場 (Utahiroba) are two budget-friendly karaoke places you can check out.
Going for karaoke in Japan
Karaoke establishments tend to get crowded at night so you can always make a reservation, known as ‘yoyaku’ in Japanese. Walk-ins are also common, but booking does save you considerable time in the event of afterword crowds.
First, head to the reception counter where you will be asked a few routine questions. Some establishments ask first-time visitors to fill a simple registration form. You might also have to show proof of identity, such as a passport.
Then you will be inquired about the number of people in your group, and the plan you would like to purchase. Depending on how long you want to sing, you will be given a price per person.
You can place an initial food or drink order at the counter and then proceed to your karaoke box.
Depending on the size of your group, a room will be assigned to you. As soon as you enter the room, your session time starts running.
Inside the room, you can use the remote control to choose from the song selection available and start your performances.
When your session is over, the telephone in the room will ring to let you know.
Then, you will bring your tab to the counter and pay the bill. If you would like to stay longer, you can ask about getting an extension (if rooms are available).
Karaoke Etiquette in Japan
When participating in karaoke with a group of people, there are some standard rules to follow in Japan.
- Usually, it is not considered respectful to sing other people’s songs unless they ask you to join.
- Don’t sing multiple songs in a row and make sure that every person in the group gets their turn to sing first.
- Always be a good audience. Cheer for the person singing and follow along with their performance. Don’t ignore, chat with others or leave the room while someone is singing.
- Let go and have fun. There’s no reason to hold back during Japanese karaoke because everyone wants to have maximum fun with it.
Important Japanese words to know while booking karaoke
Knowing some Japanese terms will make it easier for you to talk to the staff about a karaoke box. Here are some words to remember:
- Namae (名前): Name
- Puran (プラン): Plan
- Denwa bango (電話番号) Phone number
- 30 minutes—puran (30分): 30 minutes
- Ichi jikan (1時間): 1 hour
- Ni jikan (2時間): 2 hours
- Furii taimu (フリータイム): Free time
- Nomihōdai (飲み放題): All-you-can-drink
- Kitsuen—喫煙: Smoking
- Kinen (禁煙): Non-smoking
- Kurejitto kaado wa tsukaemasuka? (クレジットカードは使えますか): Do you take credit cards?
Knowing the following Japanese words will give you an easier time selecting your choice of songs:
- Kashumei (歌手名): Artist Name
- Kyokumei (曲名): Song Name
- Shinkyoku (新曲): New Songs
- Rankingu (ランキング): Ranking
- Anokoro (あの頃 ) : Nostalgic Songs
- Janru (ジャンル ): Genre
- Honnineizou (本人映像): Artist Music Video
- Rikeki100 (りれき100): Song history
If you’re planning a visit to Japan, karaoke is one activity you should not miss. It is one of the best ways to experience nightlife in Japan at its best.