Karaoke allows one to be quiet all day, and uproarious at the midnight hour. The word, a contraction of kara (empty) and oke (okesutora, or orchestra), is anything but once filled with lively souls. In a compartmentalized excess of nightlife, karaoke provides a single place for outpouring all those pent-up feelings and desires to sing and dance. But how?
Tokyo’s nightlife calls as you’ve rushed the ramen shops and toured the old town, but your wallet has thinned. Price is hardly a problem concerning karaoke, when you can spend little yen for a couple hour’s visit. Free time – an option that allows a set rate for, usually, either of two fat time blocks – is the most economic option. These long hours give you countless songs with an abundance of time for properly enjoying karaoke, without fretting over your final countdown.
At the counter, usually presiding over a plaza, like at Tokyo’s ubiquitous Karaoke Ban, you’ll be presented with a timetable and a price guide. It’s easy to point and choose with a finger, but there is more than one sheet to wag a finger at. At some karaoke locations, such as Rainbow, it’s mandatory so spend an additional fee on either all-you-can-drink soft drinks or alcohol. This fee is a sort of surcharge, but trust that it serves a perfect complement and cost-efficiency to prevent an unfortunate frying vocal cords by night’s end.
In many cases around Tokyo, this mandatory drink fee is at least five hundred extra yen. It is possible dropping coins for a single drink. At karaoke locations where this is a common option, like Karaoke Ban Ban, you’ll be presented with a pictured menu. Though a single drink may be a less appealing option, don’t necessarily consider the deal off. Karaoke Ban Ban can total at 1600 Yen for a night of free time (try the location by Tokyo’s Waseda University), including both the time cost and the mandatory drink – cheaper than most nightlife.
If you choose to limit yourself on time, you can enjoy a sweet heartfelt wailing over a half-an-hour for as low as 90 Yen. One Tokyo location limits singing to one hour. At more conventional chains, two- or three-hour blocks are common. Just be wary that as you are forgetting yourself completely in song, you’ll be warned of your final ten minutes by phone. If you choose not to heed the call, every additional half-hour costs an extra fee; the cost becomes less economic than free time.
No matter the cost plan, you will be paying after your last song when you return to the reception desk. Before entering the assigned room, you’ll still need to thumb through your wallet for a little identification. Filling out a sheet with name and information, you’ll receive a member card. Completing this, you’ll be given a receipt clipping a clipboard for a later monetary transaction. Top your all-you-can-drink glass, then head over to your room.
You’ll be greeted by a cycling video of karaoke news, cheery voiced hosts interviewing singers with the latest singles and music videos. If you’re also greeted by a particularly strong, smoky haze (certain chains allow smoking inside the karaoke booths, others inside their lounges), you can quickly make for reception and request a room change. Cord phones connect every room directly to the reception, if you prefer this convenience. Once comfortable, grab the song selecting device, sit on the slick sofa, then dim the lights in your private penthouse for the night.
Unlike the paper song catalogues of the karaoke back home in the USA, Japanese karaoke always has a video screen device. It’s often a touch screen device, occasionally outfitted with a stylus. Typical of Japan, the devices are also often in Japanese.
While these touch screen devices are universal, whichever one you use might change with the karaoke system your room comes equipped with. On this karaoke screen, one button lists the Japanese for “song search.” Select such a button – in this case the darker orange, upon the screen’s left. Among the boxes clustered around the next page is a song language option. Selecting this, you can choose from typically English, Chinese, or Korean language songs. Search and scroll until you decide upon a request (in this case, the button will be available at the screen’s bottom right corner).
A search in your language of choice will also direct you away from the full pool of music you can draw from. Sometimes, you can only find that certain forgotten eighties English hit by searching in the latin alphabet under the general Japanese search. The Japanese search is not so overwhelming. With this device, following the first orange button, the orange square designates musician search while the green designates song search. An endlessly useful tip is that “曲” will always mean song, while”歌手” indicates singer/musician. On the following page, select the yellow button “英数” (meaning English characters and numbers), then your search is good as complete.
As song browsing can be at odds with your carousing, it’s also helpful to know how to touch up your search or cancel a song. To return a page, click any button marked “もどる.” With this system, it’s the lonely green button at the bottom left. In universal emergency red, the song cancellation button is the most fun to press. Marked red with the characters “演奏中止,” it is most conveniently located at the volume control screen to the front of the room. Take care, as this will cancel the current song, and has caused the chagrin of many party members.
The volume control screen is equipped with a few knobs. “ミュージック音量” is music volume, “BGM音量” is background music volume, “エコーレベル” adjusts the echo level, and “マイク音量” adjusts the microphone volume. The echo knob might be raised to a higher level then comfortable when you arrive, and the music volume is best a little louder. This alone enhances the experience over bar karaoke.
When time dwindles down or your eyes swell shut at 4:30 in the morning, you might feel your allotted time for karaoke has passed. Don’t forget your receipt, and head to the reception to pay!