I love music, and by extension, this is probably the reason I also adore karaoke. There’s just something about hearing a song for the first time, having it touch you and thinking that would be a great song for karaoke.
Before I travelled to Japan, I like many others, considered karaoke to be an event held at a pub every so often, or something you took part in at a holiday camp, until I was introduced to it by a Japanese friend I was staying with. In Japan karaoke is a little different due to the introduction of the “karaoke box” around fifty or so years ago and it’s starting to come to the UK too.
In Japan karaoke is something that many different types of people enjoy, both young and old. I've met many older ladies who enjoy it and people have often commented to me that when school is cancelled due to weather warnings that they've seen groups of high schoolers making reservations. Children are taken by parents and grandparents, groups of workers go after work dinners and couples go there on dates. It is a great way to blow off steam, or to practice your Japanese as it offers you a way to speed read kanji and Japanese characters.
Karaoke can also be done alone and there are many different karaoke places you can visit. These are made up of varying sized private rooms which are equipped with large TVs and microphones, however some of the bigger ones might have a stage if they are designed for parties and you may be offered marracas or tamborines. The system in the room is fully automated. You use a kind of tablet to choose your song, or book to find the number of it, then register it using the tablet, and sing along.
Depending on the machine you can also enjoy MVs of your favourite artists or clips from the anime your song is from. The AMVs might be the actual opening played on loop, or various scenes. If there is no MV or AMV available for your track then it is usually a video which contains amateur actors acting out a kind of story or montage of clips suited to the theme of the track you are singing. The types of videos you get are also dependent on the machine you choose. Recently I was told that Joy Sound has the most foreign songs on it and I believe the most anime videos. However, I usually go for Live Dam as it almost always has the furigana (readings) over the kanji and more tracks by the artists I like. Recently a new Live DAM Machine has been released which offers features to create the experience of being live on stage however, I’ve yet to try it.
The machines also offer a few other features. Two that I like are the rating system and anime voice acting (only available through Joy Sound). There are two types of rating system and the quality varies from machine to machine, as well as its age. There is one where you can “compete” and are ranked against other people who have sung the song. The other measures your performance and gives you a bar across the top you can follow, like the one in the game Rock Band, and provides you with a feedback sheet which also tells you the average score for the song. If you are a member you can save your scores.
For the anime voice acting you choose a clip from an anime (the list isn’t that extensive and is limited to popular and older series from example Macross Frontier and Lupin III), the clip is then played twice, once as the clip and again with the script. Then it’s your turn, you follow the words like you would karaoke and finally they play the clip with your attempt at the lines. Usually you need two people, so it is a fun game to try with friends.
Another anime related anime experience you can have is in one of the decorated rooms. There are lots of themes. I’ve seen some for sports teams and one for Takarazuka but there are also plenty of anime themed ones. As well as, at certain places, rent costumes, which is good for a party.
My favourite experience however, was at karaoke kan. This particular chain offers small booths for solo karaoke where you can also practice if you play an instrument. It has a professional microphone like the ones you can find in recording studios. You are given a set of headphones and can sing without interruption. It’s also quite reasonably priced, as most karaoke experiences are. They can get expensive though if you start adding on the food and drink that most places serve as extra. Having said this many places offer a nomihodai plan (as much as you can drink for a set time at a set price).
If you really enjoy singing I recommend trying karaoke in Japan as it is cheap and fun. Most places are by the half hour, but also offer free time, so you can sing for several hours (it usually works out cheaper if you are going to sing for 3 plus hours). It’s a great way to celebrate, make friends, practice your Japanese and if you need to to kill time. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!