As you may know it, care-ee-oh-key, is typically a one night once a week event at some bars that are looking to bring in more customers. However, it is something much different from what people expect it to be when you come to Japan. Although there are some bars that have karaoke set up for all of the customers to see the singer, it is usually a more exclusive event among friends. In addition, people may not know what you’re searching for if you use the pronunciation in the first line. Instead, you should say, “kah-rah-okay”.
Karaoke is something that even the worst singers can participate in and nobody seems to care. I remember particularly during high school, when my friend would always sing “Come Sail Away” by Styx on karaoke night. The only difference between his voice and the actual song was that he decided to sing about five octaves too high. The original song itself is sung at quite a high level to begin with so as you can imagine, that song was eliminated from the restaurants karaoke night.
Since then I have seen a new kind of karaoke. That is, the way karaoke is done in Japan. In Japan karaoke is not usually done in front of a restaurant or bar full of viewers. Instead, it is most often performed in separate rooms for each group of people looking to sing.
One aspect of karaoke that I was impressed with in Japan is how confident each singer seems to be. Whether their voice is good or not, each person takes a turn to sing their favorite song. I personally have a terrible voice, despite my love for music. However, it is easier to feel comfortable with a group of people that never seem to judge you based on your singing abilities. On the other hand, people with excellent voices are complimented for their talent, but from then on everyone seems to sing their own favorite songs.
One of the fun parts about karaoke is there is a phone in each room. You are able to use the phone to purchase food or drinks whenever you may want them. It is essentially the same idea as American style karaoke, but with minor differences involving the setup and ways of serving the customers. The main difference between the two styles is the price. You pay for the room and the time that you spend using the karaoke room in Japan. However, in America it is cost free. The reason being, American karaoke is used to encourage additional customers. There is a sign-up sheet, and it can take a long time between each song you choose to sing. In Japan, the wait is next to nothing. You sing along with a small group of friends, and lots of the songs are duet optional. You can also ask for additional mics if you would like to have everyone singing at the same time.
The two are so similar, yet so different. In a way, it reminds me a lot of sake in America. The word sake is applied only to Japanese rice wine in America, but really the word sake in Japanese, お酒, can be used for all alcohol. Another example would be sushi in America. It is not always sushi considering you will not find all American sushi, primarily the California Roll, in Japan. American sushi restaurants sometimes improperly label a meal when they say sashimi, but instead serve sushi. In Japan, sashimi does not come with rice and sushi comes with rice, but isn’t always in roll form. It is a way of ‘Americanizing’ something to the general population of Americans making it easily understood, widely used, and fitted to everyone’s taste. Anyway, that discussion is meant for another day.
Karaoke is a place where people can hangout and relax. There are places that are open all throughout the day and there are special discounts given if you go during certain time periods. It is heavily imbedded into Japanese culture, and although not everyone enjoys karaoke, it is much more popular in Japan than in America (I’m not sure about karaoke in other countries).
I’ve been to karaoke 5-6 times during my stay, and I personally would say it’s not for me. If I had any vocal talent then I’m sure I would think differently of karaoke, but I was not put on this earth to sing. I’m sure I’ll go again sometime, but I won’t be the one grabbing for the mic or entering new songs constantly. The cost may be another deterrent for me, but for the most part I just can’t sing.
Let me know how your karaoke experiences have been.