Karaoke: Japan’s most epoch-making amusement invention

Karaoke: Japan’s most epoch-making amusement invention

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Japan

The Sound of Music

Chances are you’ve heard someone singing to blaring music as you’ve walked along the busy streets at night. The tempo and lyrics may vary from Guam to South Korea to mainland Japan to Okinawa, but it’s a universal tune: The song of karaoke.
Aside from manga and video games, karaoke is perhaps Japan’s most epoch-making amusement invention, drawing all ages, genders and nationalities. Its impact especially is felt here in the Asia-Pacific region – in or near the birthplace of the karaoke machine and the global pastime that ensued.

On Guam, karaoke bars are a big draw for tourists. “Noreyeonsupjang” (song practice rooms) and “noraebang” (singing room) bars are all the rage in Korea. And, of course, in Japan – from northern Hokkaido to the southern isles of Okinawa – karaoke is a booming businesses that a blast.

I enjoy karaoke once or twice a month with family or friends at a karaoke bar or a karaoke box, a small private room with a sofa, tables and a karaoke machine. My wife and daughter prefer a karaoke box where they can sing to their hearts are content without being bothered by others.

My 79-year-old father, on the other hand, prefers his regular karaoke bar with others over glasses of sake. In either case, I usually enjoy karaoke for one or two hours with them after dinner.

“Karaoke is a splendid communication tool,” says Shiro Kataoka, managing director of All-Japan Karaoke Industrialist Association. “Anyone can enjoy it, not only with your family or friends, but with coworkers and business partners. Or, you can enjoy singing or practicing karaoke alone.”

At a Japanese karaoke bar you pay about 200-300 yen ($2-3) per song to use the equipment. Many karaoke bars even have stages for singers to perform on. Dance floors and lighting effects are also becoming common sights.

When you want to croon more privately, you can rent a karaoke box for about 1,000 yen an hour per person. You inform staff how many hours you plan to stay. Then 10 minutes before your time elapses, a call from an intercom will confirm your checkout or extend your stay. You pay when you check out.

In Korea, noraebang signs can be seen everywhere, especially in busy districts or student areas. These establishments are similar to Japan’s karaoke boxes. Both offer private rooms, and food and beverages are also available. Since they are usually open all night, they are often used throughout the night after public transportation stops running.

“We often go to a noraebang with friends after parties at bars,” says Kim Youngjin of the Korea Tourism Organization. “Compared to Japan’s karaoke boxes, noraebang establishments are much smaller. In Japan, they have many rooms on multiple floors or fill entire buildings, while in Korea, they are only single-floor establishments.”
There are other slight differences as well.

In Korea, the fee is about 20,430 won ($20) per hour for the room, regardless of the number of users. You pay when you check in for the hours you want. The karaoke machine has a timer; when the time has elapsed, you must check out, according to Kim.
In both Japan and Korea, various discounts are available when you use karaoke during daytime, for long hours or overnight. Make sure to check out their discounts.  
On Guam there also are both karaoke boxes and karaoke bars – but with a slight twist. While there are several karaoke establishments, there are only about three – Karaoke Box & Sports Bar S-Style, Gekko and Wara Guam restaurant – that are modeled after family-friendly Japanese karaoke boxes, according to S-Style manager Akiyoshi Kakadu.

Catering primarily to tourists, these karaoke boxes operate like those in Japan but with steeper rates, such as $20 an hour per person at S-Style. There are, however, discounts to look out for such as all-you-can-eat and -drink deals and  reduced rates for longer durations.

“The majority of my customers are tourists from Japan, but young sailors sometimes come in groups when U.S. Naval ships come to port at the naval base,” says Kakadu. “Usually, groups of 10 to 20 people enjoy my karaoke boxes. But families of three to five people also use the rooms.”

Guam’s Karaoke bars, on the other hand, are more numerous and can cost big (or unaware) spenders more, even though they don’t charge for the karaoke. Sometimes called “buy-me-drink” bars, they employ attractive hostesses to converse with patrons – as long as they continue to buy them drinks at a standard island-wide rate of $20 per beverage.

These establishments cater more to locals and U.S. service members – primarily groups of young single sailors on shore leave, according to Kakadu. So while there’s plenty of song and fun to be had at these bars, it’s wise to be aware, and keep track of, what you’re paying for those drinks.

Whatever your preference for performing – karaoke bar, box or noraebang – you’re sure to have a blast discovering your inner singer. So why not get to one of these establishments near you today and get your karaoke on?

“Karaoke is a splendid communication tool.”
–Shiro Kataoka, Managing director of All-Japan Karaoke Industrialist Association.

The man behind it all

When Daisuke Inoue, the man most credited for inventing the karaoke machine, accepted the Ig Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 at Harvard University, his rendition of “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” won him a standing ovation. The invention has been doing the same for others for more than 40 years.

The businessman and musician from Kobe, Japan, used to perform in a band, often accompanying audience members and clients who sang popular songs at parties. When his band was a no-show at one party, he supplied a client with taped accompaniment – a “karaoke,” or empty orchestra.  

It was a huge success. Seeing its potential, he invented the 8 JUKE in 1971 by combining a guitar amplifier, a tape player and a timer that drives the player for 5 minute when you insert a 100-yen coin. Then, he started leasing the machine out.    

“The machine has helped so many people who wished to sing in public like a professional singer realize their dreams,” said Shiro Kataoka, managing director of All-Japan Karaoke Industrialist Association. It was enthusiastically accepted by bars and individuals and soon spread across the whole nation.

In addition to the 2004 Ig Nobel Peace Prize “for inventing karaoke, thereby providing an entirely new way for people to learn to tolerate each other,” Inoue was named one of “the most influential Asians of the 20th Century” by Time Magazine along with Emperor Hirohito, Mao Zedong and Mahatma Gandhi in 1999.

More importantly, however, his invention continues “to teach the world to sing.”

Japan alive with latest sounds

The use of karaoke machines took off dramatically when Karaoke on Demand was introduced in 1992 and has been soaring ever since with newer and newer innovations.
Karaoke on Demand transfers data from a remote central server via a broadband network to karaoke terminals instantly, providing access to a huge number of the newest hits with high-quality acoustics, according to Shiro Kataoka, managing director of All-Japan Karaoke Industrialist Association.
“The latest broadband communication model can provide about 200,000 songs, including 19,000 American and British songs in English,” he said, adding that English-language songs are the most popular worldwide. Full access to the system is limited to Japan due to licensing and copyright issues.

 “The newest model is equipped with sophisticated key control, echo (effect), vocal-guiding and volume-control functions that help even an awkward singer to enjoy a variety of songs,” Kataoka said.  “It is accompanied by attractive video stories on a monitor to enhance the audience’s enjoyment.”

Other functions allow you to repeat or fast-forward songs while singing, alter your voice tone and incorporate various sound effects so you can practice. You can even create a demo CD, according to Kataoka.

Currently, only two makers manufacture all the karaoke machines in Japan, Daiichi Kosho’s DAM and XING’s  Joysound. The same songs are often arranged differently by each maker, so you had better remember which brand has your favorite version.

Kataoka credits the global use of home-karaoke machines to Japanese trade company employees.  “They have taken home-karaoke machines to their assigned country and sung native songs to enhance relations their local counterparts,” he said. “Thanks to them, karaoke has spread virtually all over the world.”

Major karaoke box chains  
Shidax: www.shidax.co.jp/sc/shoplist/00_shoplist.html
Big Echo: big-echo.jp/shop_search
Manekineko: www.karaokemanekineko.jp

Hot Karaoke Picks

“One Dance”

— Drake featuring Kyls & Wizkid

“This is What You Came For”

— Calvin Harris featuring Rihanna

“Can’t Stop The Feeling!

— Justin Timberlake

“I Took A Pill In Ibiza”

— Mike Posner

“That’s My Girl”

— Fifth Harmony


— Zayn


— The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk

“Side To Side”

— Ariana Grande feat. Nicki Minaj

“Cheap Thrills”

— Sia feat. Sean Paul


— Meghan Trainor


– Bustle.com

Japan + karaoke =  HEART SHAPE
• 616.5 billion yen ($5.5 billion) is generated annually by Japan’s karaoke industry
• 47.5 million people in Japan sing with karaoke machines annually
• 364,000 karaoke machines are in Japan
• 121 karaoke box establishments are on Okinawa Prefecture (4th highest concentration of Japan’s 49 prefectures)
– Statistics Japan, All-Japan Karaoke Industrialist Association (2016)

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