Friday, June 15, 2012

The Art of Karaoke

Karaoke, Lost in Translation style

In Japan, any fun night out has to include a few hours of karaoke, usually at the very end of the night (or early morning), when everyone is inebriated and uninhibited. As opposed to karaoke bars back home, singing in Japan is not done in front of a full audience. Instead, private rooms are rented, in which anywhere from one to over ten people can squeeze in and sing their hearts out (people do go to karaoke on their own, apparently).

Karaoke is taken quite seriously in Japan: some even practice before a group event (most likely work-related), and most of my Japanese friends are surprisingly amazing at performing songs. I suppose non-Japanese's take on karaoke is a bit different, as we shamelessly blurt out high notes we can't quite reach and make sure we select the tackiest songs we can find on the menu.

To be fair, the selection is rather impressive, ranging from The Smiths and Joy Division, to early 90s cheeseballs such a Snow and Kriss Kross and other, more or less obscure one-hit wonders. Karaoke is usually a trip back to high school memory lane for most of us, and even though I'm never too keen on going karaoke, once I get there I get very enthralled, dancing and hogging the microphone.

Karaoke rooms come equipped with various lighting effects and sometimes disco balls, and tambourines are provided. For an extra fee you can go all out and rent wigs and costumes. You can also include a nomihodai option to your night, which means unlimited alcoholic drinks from the menu and juice bar. In Japan, karaoke can be a bit pricey, especially on weekends and in popular spots like Shinjuku and Shibuya. In order to save money, I suggest frequenting low-budget karaoke rooms in less popular areas (Meidaimae, that's right!), going on weeknights, and sneaking your drinks in drinking beforehand.

I must say, I have a deep appreciation for the videos that are featured in the background of the lyrics: usually a rotation of four or five mini films, each depicting romantic scenes, such as bubble baths, couples contemplating a landscape, or Fabio-esque men driving motorcycles along the beach. I also suggest selecting the "plus-seven" option, which accelerates songs by well, seven times, as my friends Tom and Eloise discovered. You'll never go back to the regular kind.

Here are some of my most memorable nights out, featuring some pretty exquisite "karaoke faces". I hope my friends don't hate me for posting these.

An unforgettable Osaka all-nighter:
This was The Blue Hearts' "Linda Linda", a Japanese classic
Best karaoke faces,  The Mikes, circa Osaka.

Last Sunday in Meidaimae, flamenco stance by me,
"Bailamos" vocals courtesy of Tom and Cate

I'm better at dancing than singing

Eloise and Tom, perhaps a rendition of  JLo's "Jenny from the Block"?

That's right.
The Beastie Boys always make it into my list.

Prince performing his best, The Strokes' "Last Nite"

Oasis' "Wonderwall" is a nightcap, brings people together
in harmony, over a chiseled man image

This makes me a bit sad actually... the end of an era.

The time we drank tea at the Shimokitazawa karaoke,
we felt so classy

Fashimi and Tom

Sneaked snacks: Chocopie, and Mike soy sauce popcorn

Thanks Eloise for the pictures of last Sunday!!


Kati カティ said...

How lovely, I love the movie lost in translation! I really like to read posts about Japan, I'm looking forward new posts! ^^

LH said...

How does it compare to the Nori-bang in Korea?

Either way, it has to be one of the top ten perks to living over there.. even though there are nori-bangs in Toronto.. it's not the same! Great Post.

Vivian said...


Laura: It's almost the same as Nori-bang, Karaoke is just way more expensive!! Everything in Japan is expensive it seems.... Yet I love it!

Antoine shane said...

I agree, without being inebriated it’s difficult to do karaoke. I often visit the best karaoke bar nyc and they all have a good choice of drinks and start the karaoke a bit late.