Why you have to visit a karaoke bar in Tokyo
You don't have to be Beyonce to belt out a tune in Tokyo. Even if your vocals aren't the greatest, this is why you should check out the singing rooms in the capital of karaoke.
- March 2018
There's a long list of things to thank Japanese culture for – sushi, Pokémon, kawaii – but surely we owe the biggest debt of gratitude for karaoke. It's a national pastime, an integral part of Japanese culture, and an unmissable experience when you're travelling in Japan.
Don't fear embarrassment – while there are still a few bars with public karaoke machines, it's the 'karaoke box' concept that rules here: a shop full of private rooms where you and your friends can get together and screech your hearts out in comfortable privacy. Just add a few Asahis and fried Japanese snacks, and you've got one of the best nights out known to humanity.
Tokyo is the world capital of karaoke, but you’ll find shops all over Japan. Most of the places mentioned here are big chains with branches all over the country, so try a few, find your favourite brand, and become a karaoke hero.
Best for film buffs
If your karaoke fantasies started with the film Lost in Translation, here’s your chance to live the dream. Karaoke Kan is one of Japan’s biggest and most popular chains, and room 601 and 602 of the Shibyua branch is where Bill Murray knocks out his unforgettable early-morning rendition of Roxy Music’s More Than This. With its nomihodai (all-you-can-drink) deals until dawn, it’s not surprising that it’s a favourite with everyone from salarymen to expats.
The cheap and (very) cheerful choice
If you’re set on a mega karaoke session, Uta Hiroba could be your best option. It’s a top choice with groups out for a big night because the drinks bar is included in the price, a smart budgetary move if it’s going to be an all-you-can-drink kind of night. Uta Hiroba is also known for its good selection of music and its easy-to-spot logo – a big pink smiling face with yellow gloves holding a croon-ready mike.
Best for gamers and anime fans
An upscale, tropical-resort themed chain, Pasela collaborates with popular anime and manga franchises to create something special for fans of Japanese animation and games. Rooms are bursting with colourful, super kawaii anime themes and even there are anime videos. So if you’re crazy about Evangelion, Saint Seiya, Cowboy Bebop or Airou, come on down! If you’re not, there are also charming rooms decked out in the historical Showa era or like an old Japanese bathhouse.
Best for guitar heroes – and trainspotters
The top pick of our Jetstar staff in Tokyo, this chain caters for more than just frustrated singers. If your musical fantasies extend to playing guitar, bass or even drums, at Joysound (a promotional partner of Jetstar Japan) you can rent an instrument and strum or bash along to your favourite soft-rock ballads. And if you’re more into trains than tunes, at the Shinagawa Konanguchi branch you can dress up as a driver or conductor and use the microphone to make your own public announcements in the ‘Railroad Karaoke Rooms’, perfectly decked out as train interiors.
With just two branches in Tokyo’s upscale Ginzu and Roppongi, Fiori is high-class karaoke: think champagne and gourmet food – it’s actually a restaurant with a sideline in karaoke. But what a sideline. Ornately decorated themed rooms include ‘Stardust Saloon’ and ‘Grotto Saloon’, and there’s even a room where you can perform while kicking back in a Jacuzzi. Less ostentatious performers can content themselves with footbaths and cosplay dress-ups.
Best for solo singers
Spaceship-themed 1Kara specialises in solo karaoke, which is actually a thing. Being awesome at karaoke is so important to the Japanese that people practice alone (and even take lessons) to make sure they impress when it’s time to bang out a tune in front of their fellow salarymen. 1Kara is set up as though you’re the star recording their new album in the studio (which happens to be set in a futuristic spaceship). Lose yourself in your popstar fantasy in total, solitary freedom!
Best for families
A high-end karaoke chain known for its top-notch food, Cote d’Azur is also a great choice if you’re travelling with kids. Karaoke is combined with toys and games – hello, Pokémon room – so the kids can amuse themselves while you belt out the soundtrack of your youth. The food is a big attraction, with reasonably priced pizza and pasta deals sure to be a big hit with the kids, and that’s before we even get to the 160 varieties of soft drink. And if you don’t want to do karaoke after all (or the kids lose it after your fifth rendition of Wonderwall), some branches offer ‘CineKara’, where you can watch a latest release movie in your private room.