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How to: Do Karaoke in Japan

Updated on July 31, 2016

There is a plethora of things you should do if you visit Japan - cultural experiences, trying local food, sightseeing tours and everything else in between. One thing you definitely shouldn't miss during your visit is karaoke. Karaoke, meaning 'empty orchestra', is enjoyed by millions in Japan every single day. Whether you're young or old, looking for a way to kill time, somewhere to party or a room to pass out in while waiting for the first train, karaoke is a fun and often hilarious experience you should definitely not miss.

A karaoke bar in Tokyo
A karaoke bar in Tokyo | Source

How is Karaoke in Japan different to my home country?

The main features of Japanese karaoke are below. Some may be the same in your country, some might be different.

  • There are two 'types' of karaoke rooms. One is a karaoke bar, common in foreign countries where you sing in public. The other type is a 'karaoke box' - a small room you can rent alone or with friends.
  • Karaoke is available any time of day or night (usually up until around 5am).
  • You can order drinks and food into your box, often including nomihoudai (all you can drink). These usually include both a soft drink and alcohol option. Alcohol, naturally, is more expensive.
  • Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean songs are available.
  • Karaoke is never about how good of a singer you are - it's about releasing tension and having a great time.

How do these differ to your home country? Often, karaoke is only public and available at events, such as Thursdays at the local pub. It's completely different in Japan.

When is the best time to do karaoke?

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How can I experience Japanese karaoke?

Even small towns usually have a karaoke bar, although the choice between bar and box may be more limited than, say, Tokyo. For the best experience, visit a karaoke box/bar in a large city.

Karaoke is everywhere. Larger companies includes Big Echo and JoySound, but there are plenty of local places to try that usually offer the same services. Karaoke is written in katakana like this: カラオケ (also see the picture).

Go inside and head to the reception desk. You should preferably visit a karaoke box that doesn't require a member's card (if you're only planning on going once), but a member's card is usually inexpensive and simple to sign up for.

A typical karaoke box room
A typical karaoke box room | Source

Karaoke options

Things to remember about karaoke:

  • You have to decide how long you're planning to stay. However, the staff are more than happy to extend your time if you wish. The recommended time is around two hours (or one and a half if you're alone). If you're in a very large group (six or more people), three hours might be better.
  • You have to decide if you want a drink or not. There is a 'one-drink' option where, as the name implies, you can choose one drink from the menu. Afterwards you can order more drinks if you wish - if you plan on drinking a lot, it might be more economical to go for the nomihoudai option (all-you-can-drink).
  • Karaoke boxes have a telephone that you use to order food and drinks. The staff will call you on the phone when there is ten minutes remaining on your singing time. This is where you can ask to extend your time, or simply say 'ok!' to acknowledge that your time is almost up.
  • Very important: the price of karaoke varies considerably depending on the day and time you go. The cheapest times are morning and early afternoon on weekdays - in some places, you only pay 50 yen for 30 minutes per person (no drink included). The most expensive times are usually after 10 or 11pm on weekends. They're not extortionate - perhaps a few thousand yen per head - but it's worth thinking about. If you're only planning to sing for a short time and you're not wanting to drink, consider planning your karaoke trip on a weekday in the daytime. However, a popular way to enjoy karaoke is by singing with friends after a trip to the restaurant or bar. At these times, karaoke is very popular and hence more expensive.

An alcohol and non-alcohol option is available
An alcohol and non-alcohol option is available | Source
Source
Don't forget your microphone!
Don't forget your microphone! | Source

How to get yourself into a karaoke box

  • Step 1: find a box. Head to the reception desk of your karaoke box of choice.
  • Step 2: state your time. Sometimes you have to fill in a small questionnaire displaying your name, how many people you're with and how many hours you intend to stay.
  • Step 3: choose your drinks option. One-drink, all-you-can-drink or no drinks.
  • Step 4: choose your karaoke type. JoySound is an upgrade to your room - this can include improved sound quality and more song choices. Naturally, it's a little more expensive.
  • Step 5: recieve your receipt and your room number. Usually you recieve a small clipboard including your room number, a bar code and the time you're scheduled to leave. Make sure you don't lose it.
  • Step 6: find your room. Get comfortable and ready to sing.
  • Step 7: get the song choosing machine. Each room contains one or two of these portable machines to find your songs. There is always an English option, where you can find the artist or song of your choice by name.
  • Step 8: find the microphones. Usually near the TV are two microphones on charge ready to use. It's unusual, but if one of them isn't working properly, simply take it to reception and say 'kowareteimasu' (it's broken).
  • Step 9: find the song of your choice and tap the large red or orange button on the bottom right corner. Some may have an English option.
  • Step 10: sing, sing, sing! Songs will come up in the order you selected them.
  • To cancel a song, select the red button at the bottom of the song selection remote. There are also options for 'priority select' - putting your song higher on the list.
  • Step 11: answer the phone when it rings. If you're ready to leave, say 'hai' (yes) or 'wakarimashita' (got it). You'll have five or ten minutes to finish the song you're on and then skidaddle.

We hope this guide was useful! If you have any more questions, post in the comments section below. Happy singing!

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    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 9 months ago from Long Island, NY

      Wow! It's amazing how different Karaoke is in Japan. I used to go out with friends to sing in a couple of Karaoke bars. It was always an open environment where everyone can hear.

      That method with the individual rooms (boxes) seems interesting. I was wondering how soundproof they are since I assume they are right next to one another and everyone is singing something different at the same time.

      Anyway, great article and very informative.

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