Karaoke: My Favorite Japanese Pastime

Karaoke In Tsukuba

What can you do in Japan when you’re a bit bored? You’ve gone to all the sushi restaurants you can stomach, yet you don’t quite feel like trying any new ethnic cuisine. You’re bored to death of your Nintendo Wii video games. Your girlfriend/boyfriend doesn’t want to meet you today, and you’ve seen every park that your town has to offer. So what’s the answer?!? You should go to karaoke of course!! Pronounced ka-ra-o-ke (“ca” as in the word car, “ra” like rob, “o” like so, “ke” like care), this is an excellent way to alleviate your boredom and practice singing all at the same time.

What Is Karaoke?

What is karaoke exactly? Well, karakoke is like a high-tech sing-along. There are television displays which show videos, how well you sang-based on notes and pitch, and even how many calories you burned (you gotta love Japan). You select the song you want to sing and when hear your song’s music start you’ll see the words to your song appear at the bottom of video screen…then…sing your hear out.

What’s Karaoke Like in Japan

I don’t think anyone does karaoke quite as big as they do it in Japan. True, I’ve seen karaoke done in the United States, but only on a small scale. You might go to a friend’s party and someone breaks out the small karaoke machine, and people may sing a little. On the other hand, I think karaoke is pretty big business in Japan. Every karaoke spot that I’ve been to has a proper staff to get you started and to assist you if you need it. Inside of each karaoke room is a phone to call a staff member for food & drinks and to let you know when your time is almost up. Inside of each room there is a pretty impressive, electronic panel to remotely select songs, change pitch and speed, start, and end songs. Japan loves karaoke and there are so many places to do karaoke. Of course you have bars that do it on, but you have many places that were custom-made for karaoke. For example here, in this part of Tsukuba-city, there are about five different karaoke halls for me to choose from in my area, the largest of which is a place called Big Echo. This place is pretty big, and the rooms can vary from modest, quaint and comfortable sizes to large, theme-based, and impressive. There’s Party Party which is a smaller, less-well-known place that I think was designed to cater to students in the area. There is Mercado, which is a bit small but is located above a nice restaurant and is a bit pricier than it should be. I can’t remember the names of the other two exactly, but you get the idea. You do have options when it comes to selecting a karaoke venue.

Karaoke Prices

The price of karaoke depends on several things. Number one, the place. If you go to a bigger, busier karaoke, most likely it’s going to cost more. Number two, how long you stay. I think the longest karaoke I’ve been to lasted about five hours (which can be pretty pricey if you don’t have a big group). It seems like a lot, but you have to remember karaoke is more than just sitting & singing it’s is like real-time social networking. Number three, the size of your room can make the difference between “that’s reasonable” and “I don’t have enough…let’s make a run for it.” Number four, the number of people in your group. If you have more people, it’s much easier to divvy up the karaoke room charges. Number five, how much alcohol you drink. If you’re really knocking ‘em back, you’re going to pay much more than you would if you were just going and singing.

Isn’t Karaoke Embarrassing?

Good question. The first time I went to karaoke in Japan, I was a bit nervous about singing in front of other people. I mean, of course, when I’m alone or in the shower, I have a voice that could even make Stevie Wonder jealous (yes, I’m lying), but I don’t usually sing in front of people. But here in Japan, people just have a good time singing together, people aren’t going to laugh at you or look at you funny if you hit a wrong note; sometimes that’s the best part. You don’t have to be able to sing, AT ALL, to have a good time at karaoke. If you’re not so good, people are more than willing to sing with you, or you can choose songs that include everyone. I’ve heard people with cracking voices, trembling voices, silky smooth voices, crystal clear voices, screaming voices, gasping voices, you name it, but at the end of a karaoke people are usually smiling, drunk and happy.

To be honest, I’ve never had a karaoke night that wasn’t fun, it’s one of those things about Japan that I find very charming. So, the next time you can’t figure out what to do, gather up some friends and head over to your local karaoke, you might just enjoy it.

Have fun,

Donald Ash

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Donald Ash is an ATLien expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last six years. While in aforesaid time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator, writer, designer, editor, programmer, and occasional bad artist of thejapanguy.com blog (that's just way too many hats, dude). Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
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