Trends in Japan > Lifestyle > The Evolving World of Karaoke
Market Expands as Companies Diversify Services

Karaoke was born in Japan over 30 years ago. As singing is something that can be easily enjoyed by everyone, karaoke quickly gained popularity and is now a well-known part of popular culture. There are more and more karaoke establishments that, in addition to allowing patrons to have fun singing, have expanded their services through such means as presenting customers with delicious food in a lavish space or giving them the opportunity to soak in a hot bath. In addition to technological advances, these innovations in the environments offered by karaoke establishments are driving the industry forward.


A karaoke room with a jet bath. ©aria blu TOKYO

The Advent of "Karaoke Boxes"
The word "karaoke" comes from the Japanese word for "empty" (kara) plus the first part of the word "orchestra," suggesting an "empty orchestra." When it was invented over 30 years ago, and the machines of the early 1970s used eight-track tapes containing just 40 songs. These machines were rented out and were equipped with a microphone and a coin-operated timer.

One of the first major technological developments was the display on a video monitor of the song's lyrics a few seconds before the words are to be sung, as karaoke machines had originally provided only sound. Images befitting the mood of the song were added, and more recently some karaoke machines have been equipped with technology that allows them to judge the singer's performance and rank it against the thousands of others singing nationwide. Perhaps another secret to their popularity is the fact that karaoke machines also let users employ echo and other sound effects to make their singing sound better.

Karaoke was originally popular mainly at drinking establishments, but its user base kept broadening, leading to the appearance of home karaoke machines and "karaoke boxes"—small rented private rooms equipped with a karaoke machine—which are now the dominant venue for karaoke. At a karaoke box, customers can sing their favorite songs in a room with just their friends, without having to worry about what anyone else might think of their tunes.


A "Hollywood room" designed like a stage. ©aria blu TOKYO

Facilitating Communication
The technical advances in karaoke have been remarkable, as shown by the evolution from tapes to videos, laserdiscs, CDs, and video high density (VHD) discs. These days, information technology has enabled the advent of online karaoke, and thanks to this, users can enjoy singing the very latest songs and can even sing with someone in a different location. Putting your all into singing a song you like is a great way to forget your troubles and release stress in daily life, and singing is also good for your health.

While young women are the biggest karaoke customers, this pastime is popular with people of both genders and all ages. Whenever Japanese companies or groups of friends arrange a get-together to celebrate a special occasion, the partygoers often choose to go out for karaoke afterward. Karaoke is an effective means of facilitating communication among people.

Karaoke Establishments Expand Services
In addition to these technological advances, karaoke facilities are expanding the range of services offered, with many devising new ways of entertaining customers. While it has long been possible to order food and drinks in most karaoke boxes, the food has improved in quality and variation, with many establishments offering their own specialties cooked with exclusively chosen ingredients and some operating buffet-style services.

Some places provide rooms individually designed around different themes or extravagant, luxurious spaces; some even feature foot baths or jet baths. What could be more relaxing than soaking your feet in a warm foot bath while singing your favorite songs? Other karaoke boxes boast such features as DVD players, game consoles, home-cinema systems, and nostalgic retro interiors. A visit to a karaoke establishment is a great way for guests to see Japan, letting their hair down as well as experiencing Japanese hi-tech entertainment. (October 2008)

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