Japanese Karaoke, An Unmissable Experience

japanese karaoke
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In the mood for having some fun with your friends? 🧑🎤 Karaoke is more than just a passion in Japan, it's a true part of Japanese pop culture.

For those who are not yet familiar with this hobby...

Karaoke is a hobby that consists in singing the lyrics of a song, accompanied by a soundtrack of the instrumental version. The lyrics of the music are displayed on a screen, following the rhythm of the song as it progresses. In the archipelago, karaoke is a real institution that brings in several billion euros each year.

Discover one of the favorite pastimes of the Japanese.

🎤 The birth of karaoke

daisuke inou and karaoke in Tokyo

Daisuke Inoue with his invention, the Juke 8.  Photo: Daisuke Inoue Young / "Singing Café", Tokyo 1977. Photo: Sankei Archive via Getty Images

"Karaoke" is a word coming straight from Japan. It is composed of the words "karappo" and "okesutora" which respectively mean "empty" and "orchestra". Originally, this way of singing that allowed people to free themselves from musicians was a way to propose a fun and economical activity to animate bars.

The origins of karaoke can be traced back to an American television show called "Sing along with Mitch", launched in 1958 by the crooner Mitch Miller. At that time already, the lyrics appeared on the screen while an orchestra was playing very famous songs.

In Japan, it was a record store owner named Kisaburō Takagi who first came up with the idea of the concept, inspired by the success of the jukebox. He had noticed that people enjoyed singing the songs that were played on the machines. Thus, he developed a device allowing people to hear their own voice instead of the musicians' by combining a tape recorder and a microphone. Karaoke was born!

Some believe that it was the musician Inoue Daisuke who was responsible for this invention. He used to let the customers sing in his bar with an audio tape. Therefore, he had the idea to make a kind of jukebox with a karaoke system. He received the Nobel Peace Prize for this machine.

Nowadays, the karaoke industry has developed exponentially in Japan and more generally in Asia. For reason: young people are fond of popular songs by their idols and japanime.

🕺 Karaoke in Japan, an unmissable event

karaoke night

karaoke night, photo: pressfoto

In the Land of the Rising Sun, karaoke is a true social addiction. Whether it is to spend an evening with friends, family, or to celebrate a special occasion, there is a reason to sing along. Besides, everybody is welcome: students, young professionals, company managers, retired people... a great way to bring generations together and to break down barriers.

More than just entertainment, karaoke is a genuine cultural practice that strengthens social relations. Even companies have adopted it to create a bond between colleagues. In addition, karaoke has become a tradition when one signs a new contract.

On the other hand, this leisure activity is a way to decompress from the heavy work and family responsibilities that mark the Japanese society. For the Japanese, singing popular songs at the top of their lungs is an excellent way to release the pressure and to dream a little during a night out.

🤳 The conduct of a karaoke session

In Japan, some bars suggest singing in public, nevertheless it is the concept of the karaoke box that dominates in the Land of the Rising Sun. These are private rooms equipped with benches and a karaoke machine on which you can select the music of your choice. With this system of private rooms that can welcome from 1 to 30 people, we avoid the stage fright of exposing in front of strangers and above all we can enjoy our favorite songs (whatever our musical tastes are). Some karaoke establishments are independent, but most are part of large chains known as KaraokeKan, Big Echo, Uta Hiroba, Shidax or 1Kara.

karaoke box

Karaoke box, photo found on thetravelpockets.com

The songs are selected directly on a tablet. Most of the cabins offer a large variety of music: J-pop or enka songs (traditional songs). Note that the two most used karaoke applications are JoySound and Dam. The first one has a larger selection of foreign songs while the second one will contain more rock and live videos. And of course, it is possible to order food and drinks on the spot for even more fun.

Note that even if you cannot sing very well, you will not be judged on your performance. Feel free to sing at the top of your lungs, no one will hold it against you. Just play the game to the fullest! Of course, you don't want to cover someone else's voice and steal the show. Also, anything performed at karaoke, stays at karaoke. If your boss sings an AKB48 hit, it would be a bad idea to talk to him about it the next day in the office.

☝️ Practical questions about Japanese karaoke

During your next trip to the archipelago, you will probably have a chance to enjoy yourself at a karaoke party, as this practice is such a big part of Japanese habits.

💸 Japanese karaoke charges

In most karaoke boxes, you have two options. Either you pay per half hour, or you book until closing time in the morning. Evidently, the charges vary according to the notoriety of the establishment, the day of the week, the hours and the moments of affluence. You should expect to pay between 10 and 20 euros or about 1500 yens for two hours of entertainment. To avoid unpleasant surprises, we recommend you to check if drinks are included in the rental or not.

👀 What if I don't speak Japanese?

To enjoy karaoke, you don't need to be a Japanese language expert. Know that you can easily choose songs of international variety. The application that contains the repertoire can be configured in English for ease of use. Thus, you will easily find the most popular groups and even other rare titles that rocked your childhood or your adolescence. Nostalgic people, stay away!

🥳 Karaoke in Tokyo: the top 5!

Tokyo, Photo: Erik Eastman on Unsplash
  • KaraokeKan Shibuya

The most popular in Tokyo since the filming of Lost In Translation. This place is quite expensive, but the quality of the service and the choice of songs is impressive.

  • KaraokeKan Shinjuku

Well located in the animated district, the karaokekan of Shinjuku consists of a big tower with large windows. The view on the 9th floor is stunning and the rooms can welcome up to 30 people.

  • Big Echo Shibuya 2

Big Echo is the biggest karaoke chain in Japan. It offers a large choice of music, good equipment and typical dishes. Atmosphere guaranteed!

  • Cote d'Azur Ginza

Here you can enjoy karaoke as well as pizza, pancakes and many drinks. The private rooms are very chic. Children are welcome too.

  • Pasela Akihabara Showa Dori

Perfect for the otaku, this karaoke collaborates with the universe of mangas, video games and very popular anime. Moreover, the dishes proposed are exquisite and the drinks original.

Since the 1990s, karaoke has become one of the biggest entertainment industries in Japan. More than a simple Sunday fun, this hobby is a real cultural practice, creating a social link. So, if you happen to visit Japan, don't miss the unmissable karaoke experience. Laughter guaranteed 🤣 !

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