All You Need to Know About Karaoke in Japan

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Writer’s Profile

Misty Fujii is a Canadian who moved to Osaka, Japan, in 2019 and married her Japanese sweetheart. In 2022, they had a baby and moved to Fukui for the clean country air. She is a DJ who teaches English part-time and writes to share Japan with the world. She gets excited about collecting vintage vinyl records, food from all countries, travelling, and renovating her traditional Japanese house.

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Forget shower concerts and carpool karaoke fails – belting out your faves is a rite of passage in Japan! Dive into the neon-soaked world of Japanese karaoke, where private rooms become popstar stages and everyone, from salarymen to grandmas, unleashes their inner rockstar. Imagine themed rooms, endless song catalogs, and enough liquid courage (optional!) to turn even the shyest wallflower into a singing champion. 

Ready to hit the high notes (or at least attempt them)? Let us introduce all you need to know about karaoke in Japan!  

1. History of Karaoke

Karaoke in Tokyo, 1985 | Pat & Keri, CC BY-ND 2.0 DEED via Flickr

Believe it or not, karaoke wasn’t always about belting out tunes with friends. In the 1960s, cafes called “Utagoe Kissa” let bands perform while the audience sang along. But musicians occasionally needed backing tracks without live bands, so they whipped up instrumental versions of the popular tunes. Soon, these “karaoke tracks” were popping up in bars, where patrons started singing along for fun. It began as a humble “karaoke,” which literally means empty orchestra!

Pioneers like Daisuke Inoue’s ‘8 Juke’ machine and Shigeichi Negishi’s ‘Sparko Box’ fueled the early karaoke craze. This early karaoke style received skepticism and raised eyebrows (especially from working musicians!). Still, by the 70s, karaoke’s fun and social aspect was too catchy to ignore. Dedicated machines popped up, and the stage was set for karaoke’s golden age in the 80s!

The 80s is when karaoke truly went global. From across Asia to the West, people couldn’t resist the chance to belt out their favorite tunes, regardless of singing ability. Technology kept up with touchscreens, online song selection, and themed restaurants, taking the experience to new heights. Today, karaoke remains a worldwide hit, enjoyed by people of all ages and cultures. From home setups to international competitions, it’s a cultural phenomenon that shows no signs of stopping!

2. How is Karaoke Different in Japan?

While karaoke is a global sensation, there is still something extra special about doing karaoke in Japan. But why?

Peter Vine, CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED via Flickr

Well, for starters, as karaoke’s birthplace, Japan offers a unique experience. Forget waiting forever for your turn and awkward stares because Japanese karaoke is all about private rooms with comfy couches, banging sound systems, and even food and drinks! Some also offer costumes and themed rooms to transport you to another world. While classic “Showa-era” singalongs in bustling bars still exist, private rooms, aka karaoke boxes, reign supreme. They’re the perfect place to unleash your inner rockstar with friends, family, coworkers, or by yourself. Don’t hold back on the cheers, playful banter, and even some questionable dance moves; it’s all part of the fun!

But it’s not just the comfort that sets Japan’s karaoke apart. Touchscreens, voice-altering features, and a whole multimedia experience elevate singing to a new level of entertainment! And the song selection? Unrivaled. You’ll find all the hits, anime themes, enka ballads, and traditional folk songs. Explore local music, unearth hidden tracks you won’t find anywhere else, and maybe even stumble upon an obscure indie band’s song like I did! There’s no denying that doing karaoke in Japan is an experience unlike any other. 

3. Where to Do Karaoke

Look for this kana which reads “karaoke”

Karaoke is everywhere in Japan! From cozy mom-and-pop joints to elaborate chain outlets like Big Echo or Joysound, the options are as endless as the songs. If you’re unsure where to begin your journey, head to a major train station where you’ll be sure to find a karaoke spot or several!

For the brave souls who prefer the spotlight over the safety of solitude, venture into the wild world of old-school karaoke bars tucked in entertainment districts or a yokocho like Golden Gai

Karaoke Bars

Charming snack bars in bustling districts are occasionally like speakeasies for shower singers! Karaoke bars are usually smaller, family-run spots where patrons sing in front of everyone, creating a friendly community spirit. Expect classic Japanese song selections, per-song charges, friendly banter, and maybe even a “kanpai!” between belting out tunes. It’s an authentic experience you won’t find in a chain. 

Knowing Japanese is often a major asset, but it’s not always necessary. Each bar is as unique as the people who run them, and no two are alike! The more traditional snack bars are typically run by a woman lovingly called “mama,” who keeps the customers engaged with snacks, banter, and karaoke. You may find one devoted to vinyl records, punk music, or even a family-run bar where the owners play instruments to accompany your singing! 

Karaoke Rooms (Boxes)

Dick Thomas Johnson, CC BY 2.0 DEED via Flickr

Want to belt out familiar hits with fancy tech and a squad of friends? Big names like Big Echo, Joysound, and Pasela Resorts are like karaoke palaces, boasting expansive song libraries, technology like voice modifiers, and unique themed rooms. That’s right, rooms! Unlike the karaoke bars you may be used to, these chains offer plenty of soundproofed rooms varying in size and decor. 

Imagine belting out anime anthems in a pirate ship-themed room or serenading your friends from a room decked out like your favorite anime! These are the best bets for groups or tech-savvy singers and are often near train stations, making them ideal for spontaneous singalongs. These massive chain outlets, usually spanning multiple floors, offer a more up-to-date selection of songs than individual shops.

4. Karaoke in Nightlife

While anytime is the right time for karaoke, it’s often synonymous with nightlife in Japan. Karaoke rooms and bars are open until the wee morning hours, well after the last trains stop running. This means a good singing session can happen before, during, or after a wild night out on the town! After all, karaoke is the perfect way to keep the energy and laughter flowing. 

Unsurprisingly, many popular chains get busy on weekend nights. It’s the perfect after-party spot when an event ends and people want to keep the fun going. Karaoke is where coworkers become costars, friends become competing idols, or you can perfect your best solo!

For an exciting night out on the town check out our Shinjuku Bar Hopping Tour!

5. Karaoke Tips & Etiquette 

It doesn’t take much to have a great time doing karaoke! Let’s look at a few tips and tricks to make your experience a hit:

Check online in advance: Most big chains like Karaoke Kan, offer membership discounts. Signing up is free, and the savings can add up for karaoke lovers! 

Don’t hog the mic: It’s more fun when everyone gets a turn. 

Try not to repeat songs: it gets boring to hear the same song repeatedly. If someone sings your favorite song first, pat yourself on the back for having great taste and then get creative and find a different banger. 

Cheer everyone on and have fun: this one needs no further explanation! 

Japan Wonder Travel Tours 

Japan Wonder Travel is a travel agency that offers guided tours throughout Japan. 
From private walking tours to delicious Food and Drink tours, we can help you organize the best tours just for you! If you want to explore Japan and learn more about the history and backstories of each area you are visiting, our knowledgeable and friendly English speaking guides will happily take you to the best spots! 
In addition, we can provide you with any assistance you may need for your upcoming trip to Japan, so please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or need some help! 

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Explore the most lively and popular fish market in Tokyo and try some of the local’s favorite street foods and sake with one of our friendly and knowledgeable English speaking guides! 

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Tokyo 1–Day Highlights Private Walking Tour (8 Hours)
There’s no better way to explore an area than taking a tour with a knowledgeable local guide. You will have the chance to learn about the history and interesting background stories of Tokyo, as well as discover some hidden gems which can be hard to do without a guide.

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Mt. Fuji Day Trip Bus Tour from Tokyo
Experience the breathtaking views of Mt. Fuji by visiting the highlights of the area on our guided sightseeing bus tour! Departing from Shinjuku in central Tokyo, you can travel comfortably to all of the best spots in the area by bus.

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On this full-day private tour of Kyoto, you will be able to see the highlights of Kyoto in just one day and at the same time develop a deeper understanding of both the culture of the area and Japan as a whole.

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Happy traveling!

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