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Karaoke is one of the most fun activities you can try while visiting Japan. It is often accompanied by food and beverages to enjoy with your friends, family, colleagues and classmates. And you can usually find different karaoke bars all around Japan, especially near the station.
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カラオケ Karaoke is actually short for 空 (kara) which means empty and オケ which is short for オーケストラ (orchestra).
Japanese karaoke is one of the activities that people of all ages love to do in Japan. It is very common to say “Want to go karaoke?” after class, after dinner, and especially after having drinks. After all, you can sing along to favorite songs with your classmates, coworkers and friends, while indulging in finger food and if of course, more drinks!
If you haven’t experienced karaoke in Japan, then here are six reasons that will persuade you to experience Japanese karaoke while you’re on a trip. Take a look!
Karaoke in Japan is different from western-style karaoke spaces as they are more private - as you (and your group) get your own personal room. They are not designed as bars or pubs but as many small rooms for individuals and groups. (Although sometimes the rooms aren’t completely soundproof so you can hear people singing their hearts out as you walk down the hall to your assigned room.) Each room has a TV screen (or two or three depending on the size), remote controls (and or ipads), and microphones along with a center table to accommodate food and drinks and sofa-like seating so you can relax like you’re in your living room.
Like mentioned earlier, the karaoke rooms not only attract tourists and foreigners but locals of every age group and social strata. It sounds a little strange, but many people in Japan have experienced karaoke with their boss, their team, even their clients from work. It is a place that allows you to bond with your coworkers, friends, colleagues, classmates, etc. after a drinking party, reunion, sports event, concert, anything really! It can even be the main event. You can enjoy a fun karaoke session and sing your favorite tunes - and most of the time, people will choose songs that everyone knows so everyone can join in and sing along, making the experience much more communal. It’s also a great way to figure out which popular Japanese songs you should know, since everyone will know them. You can also find out what singers or genres your friends or coworkers like, and you might find something in common with them that you didn’t know before. And even if you can’t sing along, pick up a tambourine or maracas that are often in the room and cheer on the singer(s).
Most karaoke places in Japan include English songs in the lineup of songs (you can also usually find a library of Korean and Chinese songs, especially with the popularity of K-pop). So if you can’t sing Japanese songs, you should have options! (A tip: singing the classics like the Beatles or the Carpenters will earn you points with an older crowd.)
But what surprises people and makes things unintentionally hilarious are the music videos that play behind the lyrics on the screen. While more modern day songs will just have the actual music video play, older songs are often accompanied by stock footage of very dramatic scenes acted out by no-name actors. While most Japanese people just ignore these videos, they can be quite funny to watch.
Yes, you read that right! Most karaoke places have telephones in them which allows you to order food and beverages. You can sit back and have your food delivered without leaving. (You might have to talk really loud or put a finger in your other ear to hear the staff on the other end while your friend belts out their favorite song though!) Most of it is finger food to share, like fries and karaage (fried chicken), but if you go to more upscale establishments, you could get a whole meal! Some chains like Pasela are known for their yummy and elaborate desserts like honey toast.
One of the best things about karaoke in Japan is its accessibility. The karaoke establishments, especially big chains, are located especially near train stations and entertainment districts. You can look for these karaoke boxes in Japan from popular chains like Big Echo, Karaoke-kan, Karaoke no Tetsujin, and more! In heavily populated areas like Shinjuku or Shibuya in Tokyo, you might find one or more per block. Sometimes there are establishments right across the street from each other, and you can take your pick for best deal or availability.
Many of them are open for 24 hours and on all days of the week. You don’t even need to make a reservation in advance most of the time so it’s often a spur of the moment decision to go. (Of course, if you know in advance and you’re going in a large group and/or on a popular night like weekends, it is highly recommended to make a reservation in advance to avoid being on the waiting list for long or worse, being turned away.)
As mentioned before, all kinds of groups go to karaoke. (You can even go alone, if you want to! And many people do, as there’s sometimes special prices for solo guests.) And it can be a huge event in itself. For example, people will have birthday parties, or wedding after parties at karaoke establishments, as you can rent party rooms for large groups of people. After all, there’s no rule that says you have to sing the entire time. You could use the mic for other purposes, like making speeches and announcements!
Other common uses might include gathering with other fans of your favorite artist and singing only their songs. People will sometimes use it as a practice room for singing or a place to record their demo for an audition if they don’t have the space or equipment at home. Others will use it to crash the night if they missed the last train. While sleeping is usually prohibited or advised against, it’s a safe and private space that can be cheaper than getting a hotel, especially if you only need it for 4 or so hours until the first train.
Each karaoke location is different so you have to check for prices and rules
You or at least one member of your group might have to register at reception so have ID, which you may have to show anyway if you plan to drink alcohol
You do have to inform reception how long you plan to stay initially and which package price you intend to pay; however extensions may be allowed as long as there aren’t groups waiting or that reserved the room after you
Food and drinks cost extra unless included with the initial price
When going with your colleagues, only enter one song at a time you want to sing; it’s seen as rude to have the mic and sing multiple songs in a row unless everyone is singing together
Don’t play on your phone when it’s not your turn and don’t record people unless they allow you to
Don’t be late! Even if you leave the room and get to reception a minute late, they will charge you for it. So make sure to leave enough time before the end of your time slot (which is printed on the initial receipt you get) to pack up your things and leave.
So how does pricing work? Each karaoke place has a different set of policies and pricing, so make sure you check everything in advance. The charges are based on time of the day, how long you stay, the size of the room and location. If you want to go during the evening or night, the price will be higher in comparison to during the afternoon. You also experience a surge in prices during weekends and national holidays, considering high demand.
For example, take one of the major karaoke chains, Karaokekan. You get a discount at any Karaokekan location if you are a member, but as many people choose to go to karaoke on a whim to whatever the closest location is, there’s reasonable prices for nonmembers as well. Prices are shown on the website per location for every 30 minute increment (other chains may have prices by the hour or blocks of time).
At the Takadanobaba Karaokekan location, you get a choice of paying per drink or having an all-you-can-drink (limited to soft drinks) from 11:00 to 19:00. After that, all drinks are paid per drink unless you’re a student (and only drink soft drinks). The prices differ based on weekdays and weekends.
For example (all of the following are the paying per drink option):
Monday at 1:00 pm is 80 yen per 30 minutes per person
Monday at 8:00 pm is 413 yen per 30 minutes per person
Saturday at 1:00 pm is 160 yen per 30 minutes per person
Saturday at 8:00 pm is 546 yen per 30 minutes per person
Takadanobaba is a college town, close to Waseda University, so it makes sense to have separate prices for students.
However, only one station away in Shinjuku Kabukicho, there’s only price distinctions for members and nonmembers (none for students), and times of day. And as Shinjuku Kabukicho is known as an entertainment district particularly known for its nightlife, prices are much much higher per 30 minutes than Takadanobaba.
For example, the price on Mondays for nonmembers in the morning/afternoon is 120 yen per 30 minutes per person and 546 yen at night.
※Karaokekan, "Kabukicho Honten"
There may be discounts for groups, for time-blocks, special campaigns, etc.
Japanese karaoke is made for people to relax and get to know each other through the bond of music. It’s quite the experience so if you’re visiting, make sure to schedule some time to go. And if you’re in Japan and have been invited to a karaoke outing with classmates or colleagues, we hope this article was helpful in terms of what to expect!
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