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Ever-Evolving Karaoke

Japan’s Musical Gift to World

Karaoke is a way of enjoying music that got its start in Japan and well known worldwide. It has become a pastime enjoyed by fans around the world. Karaoke continues to evolve in Japan and more advanced karaoke machines harness web technologies using video and other elements to broaden the scope for fun beyond merely singing. This includes performing with instruments such as guitars and mimicking the dance moves of pop music stars.


A young man plays guitar as he reads chords on the screen in a karaoke room of JOYSOUND Nakano in Tokyo’s Nakano Ward.

Musical Instruments and Dance


A “furikara” screenshot from a video featuring popular idols explaining key choreography dance points for karaoke-goers. © 2013 Daiichikosho Co.

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Japan is said to have more than 9,000 dedicated karaoke establishments. Typically, groups of family members and friends rent rooms with karaoke machines featuring cutting-edge technology and then sing to their collective heart’s content. Today, new karaoke businesses are increasingly introducing novel ways of enjoying karaoke, such as letting people play instruments along with tunes.

The Nakano district of Tokyo is alive with subcultures and home to shops selling anime goods, figures and other goods. In one shop is a young man enjoying himself, strumming his guitar to the chords that appear on the karaoke display. In this way, a customer can enjoy the experience of performing as part of a band yet in solitude. Moreover, the customer can adjust the sound quality and other factors freely. Just bring an instrument and cables to connect it and the karaoke space is instantly transformed into the equivalent of a music studio.


Two women try their hand at voice acting as they dub the voices for this anime at karaoke shop JOYSOUND Nakano. © Nippon Animation Co., Ltd. (C) 2012 NBGI

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Recommended for those who want to dance like their favorite stars is karaoke featuring instruction on choreographed dance moves (called “furikara,” an abbreviation of “furitsuke [choreograph]” and “karaoke”). Videos feature idols dancing and explaining the key points of dance moves such as “point with their fingers invitingly.” Particularly useful is the video footage showing the dance from a variety of angles and vantages. Another karaoke development that has proved a hit among anime fans is karaoke featuring famous anime scenes that customers can voice over. The lines appear on the screen and are recorded when spoken. When played back, fans enjoy a sense of being the star of their favorite anime.

Duets with Strangers


Five karaoke videos that customers can select to sing a duet. This service that lets customers sing a duet with a stranger has proved popular.

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Karaoke machines that use video to let users sing duets with complete strangers are also on the market. A special camera on the wall of the karaoke room captures singers seeking to sing duets with strangers and uploads the footage to a special website. Someone else wanting to sing a duet can search using the name of the song to find the video. Simply play back the video and you have a karaoke duet with a stranger. Some karaoke-goers only record the higher-pitch portion of a song such that others can play it to create a duet in beautiful harmony. Another fun application is to play multiple recorded videos of others singing the same song to create a karaoke chorus.

Today, one in three Japanese enjoys singing karaoke at least once a year. Recently, there are a growing number of karaoke establishments where people can go to sing solo – singing songs they like as much as they want without worrying about anyone else. Searching for a remote duet partner is a novel extension of this for karaoke-goers that are tired of singing alone. There are even people that have become acquainted as remote duet partners and then gone on to get married.

Karaoke & Gourmet



Left: This Evangelion Room featuring characters from Neon Genesis Evangelion at karaoke shop JOYSOUND Nakano is a karaoke paradise for Evangelion fans. © khara
Right: This room at Festa Iikura in Tokyo’s Minato Ward is so spacious that it even has a piano. Here customers can enjoy an authentic course menu in a relaxed ambiance as they sing karaoke.

Another common characteristic of karaoke in Japan is karaoke rooms with a theme. Particularly popular are rooms designed for anime fans. For example, in one room based on the anime Evangelion, the walls on all sides are packed with characters and things such as symbols that only hardcore fans would know. These rooms are popular with young fans that sing anime songs, particularly theme songs.

In Minato Ward, central Tokyo, there is a karaoke establishment with extravagant rooms akin to hotel suites where customers can enjoy karaoke and course meals prepared by a dedicated chef. There are meat, fish and even sushi courses for customers, who include executive board members of companies that use the spot for socializing with clients. Building rapport and deepening friendship while enjoying karaoke – this karaoke is clearly distinct from that practiced by younger karaoke-goers.

Karaoke in Japan is about more than singing with friends. It continues to evolve such that karaoke can mean different things to different people – from a fun time spent alone to a venue for doing business.

(March 2013)

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