Historically it was a tradition in Japan to entertain guests with music. And a wordless backing track has long been a boon for professional singers who can’t always access a full cast of performers. Add a national penchant for innovation and entertainment, and the result? Karaoke – a mashup of the words kara and oukesutora, ’empty’ and ‘orchestra’. When you’re busting to get in touch with your inner Japanese superstar and sing your heart out in Tokyo, here are the best karaoke bars in which to show off your (lack of) talent.
Roppongi is known for its energetic nightlife scene and, as well as expat-filled bars and clubs, which means karaoke. Glam is, as far as karaoke bars go, very glam – with its velvet-effect throw cushions, moody lighting, cigar menu and a fine wine list including expensive Bordeaux. With just five rooms, the service is top-notch too – and very discreet. The catch? It’s members only, so you’ll have to find some new Tokyo-based friends to help you make it past the door.
In upmarket Ginza, home to fashion emporiums and wallet-draining sushi bars, Karat is different from your average Japanese karaoke bar. Whereas most hire out private rooms, where you sing along to a pre-recorded soundtrack with your own group of friends, Karat is karaoke as you see it in the films: a concert-style setting seating up to 50, with a live band that will play along to obscure requests. Brilliant for wannabe superstars, less so for shrinking violets.
While many Tokyo karaoke bars have a selection of English songs, you’ll often find that the more niche artists or hits aren’t available – after all, they’re catering primarily for a Japanese audience. But the tables are turned at Bruce, specialists in English karaoke, and with more than 50,000 songs to browse, you’re bound to find a tune you’re keen to belt out. Tucked in among the popular izakaya bars of Shimbashi, the location is convenient for a night out, too.
Shinjuku’s party quarter, Kabukicho, is the place to pick if you want to sing late into the night. And Diamond Bar is a friendly, affordable place to do it. Bring along a couple of friends, order a round of saké or frothing draft bi-ru (beer) from the bar and line up your favourite tunes. If you get peckish, you can dart to any one of the many local conbini (convenience stores) to grab a quick snack.
Ellie Hurley contributed additional reporting.