Karaoke is synonymous with Japan, and for good reason.
Not only are karaoke parlors everywhere, but they are everything you hoped they would be, and nothing like you thought they would be.
Do you have what it takes to come to Japan and prove your worth as a karaoke master? The quest for karaoke superstardom starts from within, and follows four concise steps: the understanding, the finding, the singing, and the leaving.
Step One: Understanding The Karaoke
Pre-Japan my mental image of karaoke involved some combination of alcohol and a lack of self-respect; I avoided karaoke so long as I was sober enough to make rational decisions.
However, Japan has reformed my perspective.
Karaoke in Japan is not only popular, classy, and wildly entertaining, but it is a completely new experience. Coming from the mediocre karaoke offered by trashy dive-bars filled with a cast of drunken, coked out, sorority girls belting out Top 40, Japan's karaoke offerings are incredibly refreshing.
A venture to a karaoke parlor consists of getting together with friends (or strangers? I have yet to try this), selecting a venue, and getting a private room. Yes, a private room. As in the only people who will hear you sing, or that you will hear sing are the people you came to karaoke with.
I was incredibly skeptical of this at first, “isn't the whole point of karaoke to make an ass of yourself in public?” I thought. Turns out I was wrong.
Karaoke in Japan is a ton of fun, and when you take into account that many karaoke bars either allow you to BYOB or order nomihōdai (all you can drink), it becomes clear why the Japanese love karaokeing (and why you will too).
Step Two: Finding The Karaoke
In big cities karaoke parlors are everywhere (although they can easily be found in smaller towns as well). There are usually plenty of parlors to choose from and they are all relatively the same: modern, polished, clean, and bright.
You can just look for one of the huge karaoke-inspired logos or you can seek out a smaller place (the katakana (Japanese) for karaoke is: カラオケ). If you are in a large city, then you will have your pick of karaoke parlors.
You should decide ahead of time if you will be eating and/or drinking during karaoke. The next step is deciding if you want to bring your own food and drink or have it served to you (each location has their own rules and prices so it may be best to shop around).
Once you decide on a location make sure you look closely at the prices as they vary based on the number of people in your party, the day of the week, and the time of day.
Many karaoke parlors also offer specialty rooms (Hello Kitty-themed or hot tub, anyone?) for an additional cost, and whether you are solo, a couple, or a group of forty (even 100), there is a karaoke room for you somewhere in Japan.
Step Three: Singing The Karaoke
If you go to karaoke, you must sing karaoke – simple as that. No observers allowed.
A vital step in your quest for superstardom, your singing voice must be set free (that's the whole point of karaoke, people).
For the newcomers or the shy, it may take hearing a few songs to warm up to the idea of being the center of attention, but ultimately the urge to participate becomes overwhelming and you will find yourself fighting to find that perfect song (it's not My Heart Will Go On).
Song selection, not your singing voice, is the most important part of karaoke, and so long as you can figure out how to operate the remote (usually there is some English option available ahead of time, but it won't hurt to ask for one when you are first getting your room), you will have no trouble attaining greatness in your room of karaoke.
In the end the best singer is the one having the most fun. Just make sure you let everyone participate (or make everyone participate if someone fails to follow the rule of singing).
Step Four: Leaving The Karaoke
This may be the most important step of the karaoke process, but you have to leave.
Despite your excellent guesswork when you first arrived at karaoke so many hours ago, there will come a time during your night when the phone in the room will ring and the front desk will tell you that only ten minutes remain of your karaoke adventure.
This is when you must make the all-important decision as to whether or not you are going to extend your time (and trust me, you will want to extend).
Now you do have the option to extend your time in the karaoke parlor, but do so at your own risk. These places are open until four or five in the morning sometimes, and you can quickly rack up a huge bill without realizing it (especially if you are a nomihōdai participant).
You must know when it is time to retire your singing voice for the night in hopes of using it once more at a later date.