The basics of karaoke in Asia are a little different from what a western audience may expect. Rather than sing to an entire bar, in a Japanese karaoke box your group of friends has your own “soundproof” room where you can belt it out to your hearts content without bothering anybody else. This really ups the fun factor and minimizes the “making a total ass out of yourself in front of a ton of strangers” factor. Karaoke is a perfect activity for a group out on the town. It is fun, active, and the inhibition altering effect of alcohol helps encourage plenty of singing.
The night of song starts at the karaoke box, a collection of rooms that can be multiple stories tall in the big cities. There are plenty of major chains, including Shidax, Big Echo, Maneki Neko, Cote d’azure and lots more. You enter the lobby and sign up for a room. Time is usually billed by the half hour, with discounts available during the day and on week days. Most groups sign up for an hour or two, but sometimes you just want to sing till dawn and select the free time option. You can also select which karaoke machine you want in your room. Different machines have different songs, and the more you go to karaoke the more you can figure you which machines have the songs you like to sing. Most machines have songs in Japanese, English, Korean, German, Romanian, French and more, so there is something there for everyone. Some machines even have a members program that allows you to save favorite songs and track some data.
Drinks can be ordered separately, but are usually priced to encourage ordering a nomihodai course. This gives the whole group all you can drink for the duration of their stay. Each room comes with a little telephone that can be used to order drinks. It is a ton of fun to call down to the kitchen and order a slew of beers and cocktails.
Some chains actually allow you to bring in your own drinks. This can be fun since it can be cheaper than the all you can drink plan, especially if there are a few non-drinkers in the party. (To stop people from cheating the rule for nomihodai is everybody gets it. It is very rare for a place to allow a party member to opt out of an all you can drink plan.) I also like the bring your own option because it allows me to plan ahead and bring some craft beer or home brew to drink. Drinking beer and belting out The Beatles is fun. Drinking craft beer and doing the same is even better.
Then the intercom phone rings to deliver a ten minute warning, the cue to start wrapping things up (or add another hour). Everybody gets to stumble for their last train (or the next bar) with their voice a little hoarser and mood a little better.
What is your favorite karaoke song? karaoke drink? Let me know in the comments.
Blog note: I will be on hiatus traveling next week. I will be doing lots of craft beer research while I am gone.