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.
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.
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.
|All-you-can-sing rate between a set time range.
|All-you-can-drink with alcohol
|nomi hodai (arukoru fukumu)
|You must order one drink/person
|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.
|(Search by) new song
|(Search by) artist
|(Search by) song title
|(Search) by genre
|Add a song to the queue
|Check the song queue
|Remove a song from the queue
|Start/Restart the current song
|stato / yarinaoshi
|Play this song next
|Stop the current song
|ensou chushi / teishi
|Background music sound level
|Microphone echo level
|Microphone sound level
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 延長する (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.
For more on learning Japanese
- Learn Japanese with our original study materials on GaijinPot Study
- Questions about studying Japanese in Japan? Take a look at the Japan 101 section on Higher Education and Studying Japanese
- Join our GaijinPot Study Facebook group to connect with fellow learners
- Learn more about the GaijinPot Study Placement Program.