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Kanji Cheat Sheets: Going to Karaoke in Japan

Level up your karaoke experience by learning how to use the machine in Japanese

By 5 min read

Karaoke is one of those quintessential cultural experiences you have to do if you come to Japan. You’ve seen it in movies, anime, and even video games, now it’s time to experience it for yourself.

There are two types of foreigners who go to karaoke—those who use the English language setting and the rest of us […] if you want to sing anime songs you’re definitely going to need to use Japanese.

If you’re only visiting Japan for a few days, switching the karaoke machine to English is enough to get you going on a rowdy night of singing. For those who stick around longer, however, it’s time to unlock the full potential of doing karaoke in Japan.

Use this kanji cheat sheet and unleash your inner rockstar next time you head out to karaoke like a boss.

Choosing your karaoke box

Like many things in Japan, the karaoke experience caters to pretty much any niche you can think of.

Do you want to sing your heart out in a Neon Genesis Evangelion cockpit? Or maybe you prefer a Monster Hunter or Final Fantasy inspired tavern. You’ll find everything you need in Akihabara or Ikebukuro, the most famous spots for otaku in Japan.

One of the biggest karaoke chains, Big Echo, even offers a cosplay service where you can rent costumes and accessories for your singing session.

Be careful not to go over your time limit or you’ll have to pay extra!

If you’re traveling solo or on a budget you can use a ヒトカラ (hitokara), a contraction of ひと (hitori) meaning “one person” and カラオケ (karaoke). Yes, it’s a karaoke box for only one person.

The staff might ask you to choose between a Joysound karaoke room or a DAM karaoke room. Don’t let this frazzle you, they’re pretty much the same other than their machines which have different versions of certain songs available. You’ll find, for example, the jazz version of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” or a cover of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” by Muse only on DAM machines.

In reality, most of the songs and artists will be on both machines. What is important, though, is whether you want a smoking or non-smoking room.

English Japanese Romaji
Non-smoking room 禁煙ルーム kin-en rumu
Smoking-allowed room 喫煙ルーム kitsu-en rumu

When you’re ready to go, the staff will give you a receipt with your starting time, your room number, and the number of people in your crew. Make sure you hold onto it because you’ll need it when you pay at the end.

Choosing a karaoke price plan

The first time I went to karaoke in Japan, I was super excited despite not being able to read Japanese very well. We chose the first flashy karaoke joint we saw in Shinjuku and booked a box for one hour without paying much attention to the price.

My friend and I entered the room and were getting ready to select a few songs when a phone on the wall rang and we were asked what we would like to drink. How nice of them to offer us free drinks, we thought!

Little did we know that the drink was not free, and we were so busy singing our hearts out that we stayed after the time limit we initially asked for. The best advice I can give you about doing karaoke in Japan is to pay attention to how much time you have left because you will be charged ruthlessly for every 30 minutes you go over.

Check this list of vocab before you go so you won’t make the same mistake I did.

English Japanese Romaji
Price plan 利用料金 riyou ryokin
Minute rate 〜分 ~pun
Hour rate 〜時間 ~jikan
All-you-can-sing rate between a set time range. フリータイム furi taimu
Student discount 学割 gaku wari
All-you-can-drink 飲み放題 nomi hodai
All-you-can-drink with alcohol 飲み放題(アルコール含) nomi hodai (arukoru fukumu)
You must order one drink/person 1ドリンクオーダー制 wan dorinku oda sei

Using the karaoke machine in Japanese

Okay, so you’re finally inside the karaoke box and the timer starts, now it’s time to pick your songs.

There are two types of foreigners who go to karaoke—those who use the English language setting and the rest of us. Nowadays, almost every karaoke machine has an English option, but if you want to sing anime songs you’re definitely going to need to use Japanese.

English Japanese Romaji
(Search by) new song 新曲 shin kyoku
(Search by) artist 歌手名 kashu-mei
(Search by) song title 曲名 kyoku-mei
(Search) by genre ジャンル janru
Add a song to the queue 予約 yoyaku
Check the song queue 予約確認 yoyaku kakunin
Remove a song from the queue 予約取消 yoyaku torikeshi
Start/Restart the current song スタート/やり直し stato / yarinaoshi
Play this song next 割込転送 warikomi tenso
Stop the current song 演奏中止/停止 ensou chushi / teishi
Background music sound level ミュージック音量 myujikku onryou
Microphone echo level エコーレベル eko leberu
Microphone sound level マイク音量 maiku onryou

Ending your karaoke session

Near the end of your session, you should receive a call from the staff reminding you how much time you have left. If you’re having too much fun, you can extend your session (for a fee) by saying えんちょうする (encho suru).

When you’re ready to leave, make sure you take the receipt you received at the beginning with you down to the check-out counter.

Armed with this newfound knowledge, go forth and sing! Even if you’re terrible at it, no one will mind.

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