Japanese karaoke is different. With no stage or heckling crowd, belting out a teary-eyed metal ballad is no different than playing Rock Band in your living room. Arguably a more important part of Japanese culture than even the tea ceremony, nearly every Japanese has picked up the mic.
Karaoke hasn’t caught on in the West like it has in Japan. To many, karaoke means three minutes of slurred lyrics between microphone feedback and sips of whisky. But Japanese karaoke happens in a cozy room with food and drinks a quick phone call away. It’s just good friends having a good time singing and singing along–between sips of whisky. If your singing sounds like a frog gagging on a gnat, that’s arguably the point. Karaoke is where Japanese “let it all hang out,” which is why businessmen will often take their new partners there after hours. You never really know someone until you’ve heard them butcher Bon Jovi’s Dead or Alive.
The Food And Drinks
Food and drinks are ordered via a telephone in the room. Some even by remote control. If you’re nervous about speaking Japanese, don’t be. Since almost every menu has numbered pictures, you really only need to know Japanese numbers to order. (If your karaoke box orders via remote, you don’t even need to know that.) Drinks can be ordered separately, but before you rent a room you’re usually asked if you want to buy one of several all-you-can-drink sets, which are usually cheaper if you plan to sing for a while. It might also be a good idea if you need to put back a few before trying out karaoke in Japan.
Karaoke rooms usually cost around 2000 yen per hour, though rates differ. Around ten minutes before the end of the session you’ll get a call from the staff letting you know your time is almost up, but you can always rent the room longer. But a word of warning about karaoke in Japan–if you’re going with Japanese friends, parties often last well into the wee hours. Things can get expensive for non-drinkers since its customary to split the bill. If you’re a heavyweight though, it may work in your favor.
The Karaoke Box
Rooms are semi-soundproof with good sound systems. The karaoke machine has thousands of Japanese and English songs. If you’re lucky, it will also have a guide listing them in Japanese and English. For those, just input the song number into the remote and you’re set. With others, you’ll have to insert the song manually. That can be daunting if you can’t read Japanese, but here’s a handy guide that may help you. No promises though–every karaoke machine is different.
How To Use A Japanese Karaoke Remote
On the Japanese remote I was using, first thing was choosing 電藻苦, which takes you to the top menu. Maybe your remote won’t have it, but it will have the search options 直面 (song name) and 歌手め (artist name.) After selecting one you’ll want to search in English, I presume, so usually around the bottom of the insert screen you’ll see 英数 (roman characters.) Choose that and you’re set to choose your song. A few suggestions usually pop up on the right hand side, but if you don’t see what you’re looking for it doesn’t mean your song isn’t there. Choose 探す or さがす (search) to get the full list. Choose your song if they have it and hit 転送 (transfer) to send it to the karaoke machine. Another button you might need is 戻る or もどる (back.) And if you want to stop the song, just hit 演奏牛 (I can’t handle karaoke in Japan!) Just kidding. It basically means stop. And that should be all you need. You’re welcome.
A Bit Of Advice
Some karaoke places require membership cards, which means filling out a form in Japanese. Having a Japanese residence (or faking one) might also be required–along with a foreign registration card. Places in larger cities that get a lot of non-Japanese tourists are less likely to require them though. Regardless, once you get through the registration you’re A-okay to sing to your heart’s content. So. Even if you weren’t into it before, Japanese karaoke just might have you buying a machine of your own once you get back home.