At this point, it may seem pointless to explain what “karaoke” means right? Surely we have all enjoyed a good session of karaoke at one time or another. However, there are some differences between the western karaoke and the eastern one.
While those used to Western style karaoke are used to singing along to lyrics on a screen in front of the patrons of bars or karaoke clubs, and waiting a turn while drinking something and the others sing, in Japan the karaoke establishments are really different. This is due to the fact that they seem more like a hotel rather than a bar.
The first thing that calls to our attention is that Japanese karaokes are not solely a bar or a pub but an establishment with several rooms that are independent one from another, of different sizes and shapes, each one with their own karaoke machine, cushions, and tables. Often the karaoke establishment has neon, bright lights and loud music with a big reception in which you have to reserve a room and say how many people are going to be participating, and according to the number of participants, they will assign us the room that best suits our needs.
The rooms are for private use only and exclusively for the group that rents them at that moment, so no one else will enter while you have it booked. Often in Japanese-style karaoke, we will only sing in front of our friends, and we don’t have to hear the other strangers.
To use a karaoke machine is really simple, there are some options for voice mediation and sound effects, but if you just want to sing, we just have to look through the available song choices often through an electronic device, and use it to add a song to our playlist. Most of the karaokes have sections for English and other languages, usually Chinese and Korean.
Besides singing, karaokes have a service bar in which we can ask for soda or alcoholic beverages and also for some snacks while we are waiting. Usually, the fee for the karaoke is per hour, with the food being an additional charge, but there are some special rates in the mornings (when it is less crowded).
In some cases, there is no bar and you would need to order drinks or food by picking up a phone found on the wall, or request through a screen in the room. In a few minutes the waiter will bring the order to the room.
Origin of the karaoke
The actual origin of the karaoke is not so clear, there are some Japanese theories that say that it was the singer Inoue Daisuke, who built a machine in 1971 that played his own records without his voice so others could sing them, he rented this machine in bars and hotels and worked with 100 yen coins. However, it seems that he never registered his invention so a Filipino inventor called Roberto del Rosario developed a similar system called “less one” in 1975 so this patent is what we refer to when referencing the origins of the karaoke machine nowadays.
Whatever is the real origin of karaoke, one thing is certain, the Japanese love to sing, in gatherings and family reunions so it’s not strange to think that they are the ones that popularized this form of entertainment.
More on Karaoke in Japan coming soon!
Japan's Karaoke Culture Part 2