Karaoke is still popular

Head out, music on: karaoke in Japan

Anyone who believes that the Japanese are always cautious and reserved has never experienced karaoke in Japan: Here, songs from all over the world are sung without any sense of shame or tact, regardless of whether one speaks the language or not. The term karaoke consists of the words kara, derived from karappo (空 っ ぽ 、 か ら っ ぽ, empty), and oke, from Japanese okesutora (お ー け す と ら, Orchestra). This popular pastime quickly spread around the world after its discovery in Japan, but Japanese karaoke remains an exception and is very different from its western counterpart.

How it all started

The trend towards recorded music has its origins in the 60s and 70s, when technological progress made it possible to enjoy music on the go for the first time. The first karaoke machines, however, were built by musician Daisuke Inoue in 1971 in Kobe.

After Inoue was repeatedly asked by viewers whether he could sell recordings of his performance to sing along to, he constructed an appropriate device and rented it out to clubs and bars. Unfortunately for him, he did not patent the idea and so it came about that the Clarion company brought the first commercial karaoke box onto the market and thus started an industry worth billions.

A typical karaoke evening

While karaoke is a niche market in the West to this day, a huge industry revolves around the popular leisure activity in Japan. Schoolchildren in particular often rent a private karaoke box in groups and sometimes spend the whole day singing and hanging out there. Sometimes the private rooms are also used for very strange purposes: Once I even discovered a Japanese woman with a cello who used the soundproofed room to practice.

Karaoke is also one of the most popular evening activities among adults: It is not uncommon for business people to celebrate a successful contract over karaoke together. A typical karaoke evening, however, often starts in a restaurant or one Izakaya (居酒屋 、 い ざ か や)where dinner and the first round of drinks will take place. For the second round (二次 会 、 に じ か い) you usually make your way to a karaoke bar.

Once there, go to the reception and give the staff the key data: How many people, how long you want to stay, which "catering" you prefer (e.g. all-you-can-drink, too nomihoudai called) and what kind of karaoke machine is desired. Sometimes you get higher quality equipment for a surcharge, e.g. a better sound system or a larger selection of songs.

The karaoke boxes vary in size and equipment depending on the price category, but a television and tablets for selecting songs are usually standard. There is also a telephone in each room, which is used to communicate with the reception, similar to a hotel. Here you can order drinks and food, extend the rental period and, if necessary, request technical assistance, all without ever having to leave the room.

Tips and Tricks

Even if every karaoke bar is slightly different, everything is usually controlled with the help of a touchpad in a tablet or a permanently installed device. This allows you to search for an artist (歌手 名 、 か し ゅ め い), Songs (曲名 、 き ょ く め い) or categories such as language or novelties (新 曲 、 し ん き ょ く) search. A hiragana keyboard is used to enter text; to switch to the English version, simply press the button with 英 as a label. The button to search (探 す 、 さ が す) is often found in the lower right corner while the back button (戻 る 、 も ど る) located in the lower left corner.

If the pitch range of your voice is insufficient for a song, you can adjust its key to make it easier to sing. Be warned, however, that it can sometimes be very difficult to choose the right key for your own voice and after a few drinks you often fail to spontaneously find the right key in the middle of a song.

If you suddenly no longer like your selection of songs, you can press the red button with the kanji for stop () end the current song. The queue can also be adjusted afterwards, regardless of whether you just want to change the order or prefer to remove a song. In addition, be careful with the volume control and control it as soon as you enter the room, your ears will thank you for it.

And that's all you need to know! So get some friends, rent a room at the nearest karaoke bar and show everyone your talent for singing. It's often a bit shy at first, but remember, everyone just wants to let go of karaoke and have fun. So put a few of your favorite songs in the queue and before you know it you can't wait until it's your turn again!