Culture Difference I Felt in Karaoke Culture in Japan

Due to the current situation, Karaoke might become a not-so-popular activity anymore. But I still can’t forget my experience of Karaoke in Japan both with my colleagues and friends. A little while ago, Karaoke was almost a part of every gather-together event. No matter if you work in a company or studying at school, after the main drinking and eating in the restaurant, people will suggest why not go to Karaoke for the next part.

Choose an upbeating song first.

I love singing despite the level of my singing skills. That’s why when I first joined a company’s Karaoke after the team-building drinking, I was so excited.

First I thought Karaoke is a place for people to sing whatever they are feeling like to sing at the moment, but I found it is not like that in Japan.

I found that almost all of my Japanese colleagues ordered upbeat and cheerful songs. When the person was singing, others clapped and made body movements to accompany the song like they were in the concert. Some colleagues even danced and made harmony on a professional level. Coming to the second half of Karaoke, someone ordered ballad songs, but in that case they usually made a brief explanation in advance :”Sorry this song might be a little quiet…”

At first I didn’t understand at all why all people chose upbeating songs and even felt sorry to sing the slow ones. Because in my culture, Karaoke is a singing box, we just go and order any song we like. After a few years, I found it is a Japanese culture to adjust to each other in Karaoke. It is actually quite easy to understand when I get used to it. To make an event popping, it needs everyone taking part in it to warm up the atmosphere. If you pick a sad and slow song at the first minutes, it is very hard for people to catch and raise the mood of the entire event.

Karaoke by yourself

I found there are a lot of activities people can do with themselves without any stress in Japan. For example, Barbecue (Yakiniku) by yourself. Some barbecue restaurants will prepare the menu of one person portion with a half or totally independent booth for you to eat. It is the same with Karaoke. There will be a small room and a special price for a one person course in Karaoke in Japan. There is even a specific word in Japan called HitoKara (Hito means Hitori, the meaning of one person in Japanese).

People will practise songs here by themselves for their coming company or school Karaoke events, or they love Karaoke but are too shy to sing in front of people. I remember I heard from a Japanese female friend who already has her own children. She said she will sing those sweet and romantic love songs like songs by Nishino Kana by herself in Karaoke, because she feels so embarrassed to sing those ones in a family Karaoke as a mother. 

I still tried once for Karaoke all by myself. Oneday I had a fight with my friend and felt an urgent need to make an outlet of my stress. I went to Karaoke on my own. But after singing one and two songs, I felt so weird and gave up. Because it is so boring for me to just sing without an audience. This style might not fit for those who need people’s feedback like me.

An economic Karaoke

Karaoke in Japan usually charges customers by every 30 minutes and usually it is not cheap. Especially evening on weekdays or daytime on weekends, the price will be higher. There are many Karaoke chains in Japan like BIG ECHO, Karaoke Kan, Karaoke no Tetsujin. But the most cost-effective one I have ever gone to is called Karaoke BanBan. 

BanBan is also a Japanese word, which means doing something at a mad pace. Same with the name, thanks to the very cheap charge on average, you could sing as much as you want here. When I was younger, I usually booked one whole afternoon there, also bringing comics with friends. When one person is singing, others can just enjoy reading comics. It was so much fun during that relaxing comic reading and singing time. 

Nowaday, the hardle to sing in Karaoke is getting higher. People can sing through Karaoke apps by cellphone. I tried an app called Pokekara and had a good experience. Some stores in Japan even sell noise canceling devices to avoid disrupting your neighbors while singing. 

One of the core spirit of Japanese is to not overexpress yourself. You could find the most interesting cultural difference in this activity of singing, which is mainly meant to express yourself. Hope one day, we can sing freer in Karaoke again. I am missing the culture shock in the singing box so much.