Karaoke in Japan tends to be a little different from in the west, and it comes with its own set of rules and etiquette that it’s a good idea to learn if you want to keep being included in karaoke parties.

Whether it’s your first time ever singing in (semi-)public or you’re a seasoned karaoke veteran back home, these six tips for not being a total karaoke bore will help make your singing sessions super special (and not at all humiliating…).

The following is a list of mistakes that foreigners often make when they do karaoke in Japan, and how to avoid them.

1. Don’t hog the mic

Karaoke booths in Japan come equipped with a touchscreen device stuffed with literally thousands of songs to choose from. Simply select a song on the touchscreen and you’ll “register” it into a queue on the karaoke machine. First-time karaoke virgins from foreign countries tend to make the mistake of monopolising these touchscreens. Perhaps it’s the overwhelming luxury of choice (Japanese karaoke booths always have a staggering array of songs, including almost any English language song), or perhaps it’s because they get over-excited by the novelty of electronically selecting songs. For whatever reason, it’s terrible karaoke etiquette to enter a string of songs of your own choosing. The reason is that the songs come up in the order they were registered, which means that if you’ve filled the queue with “your” songs, you’re going to be singing for a long time, while the rest of your group fights the urge to pelt you with ice cubes and rip the mic from your greedy hands.

▼ Put down the magic box full of songs…

FlickrDick Thomas Johnson 

2. Read the room

The best thing about Japanese-style karaoke is that it’s all about having fun together. Western-style karaoke tends to be more of an exercise in public performance and humiliation than anything else. Within the comfort of Japan’s private, sound-proofed, cosy (sometimes a little TOO cosy…) karaoke rooms, you can enjoy yourself with your pals without worrying about others judging you. To foster the best atmosphere, it’s essential to pick songs that everyone will appreciate and that will get everyone fired up. Generally, starting the night with soppy ballads isn’t a good idea, and if you’re the only person in the group who has a particular love for thrash metal, you might want to limit yourself to just one or two songs in that particular genre.

3. Mind your language

If you’re a foreigner in Japan, you probably have lots of foreigner friends from non-English speaking countries as well as Japanese friends. And if you’re out for karaoke in a group of people with different nationalities and native tongues, you’re going to need to decide on a common language to sing in if you want everyone to be having a good time. (If you just want to put on a solo show, then you might want to read tip 1. again.) If you’re the only French speaker in the group, for example, then constantly entering obscure French songs isn’t going to do anything to keep the party going. Likewise, if you’re with foreigner friends whose Japanese isn’t that good yet, they’re probably going to feel inadequate and bored if you insist on entering nothing but Japanese songs. It’s best to pick crowd-pleasing songs that everyone knows, which in most cases means English songs.

▼ Karaoke is great Japanese practice, though.

FlickrMichael Zimmer

4. Don’t be rude, dude

When people are singing, it’s pretty bad karaoke etiquette to hold a full-blown conversation with another member of the group. Similarly, looking bored, constantly messing with your mobile phone, or climbing over other people to go to the bathroom is also frowned upon. In general, songs are only a few minutes long, so it’s better to just wait until there’s a pause between them to do whatever it is you need to do.

5. Don’t be shy, guy

While singing in public can be horribly embarrassing for some, even the shyest of shrinking violets can turn into a rock god or goddess once they realise two simple things about Japanese karaoke. Firstly, it’s important to realise that singing ability means absolutely nothing. Karaoke in Japan isn’t about showing off how good a singer you are, it’s about having fun with your friends. Chances are, even if you sound like a cat in heat, nobody is going to care one bit. Secondly, karaoke booths usually come with an “all-you-can-drink” system, and alcohol does wonders for inhibitions! Now, we’re not advocating that people drink if they don’t want to, but it’s important to relax and enjoy yourself, otherwise you’re not going to feel like part of the experience. If you’re too shy to sing, pick a crowd-pleasing song and chances are everyone will be singing along with you – there’s usually at least two microphones anyway.

▼ A glass of liquid courage will help loosen up those vocal cords.

Flickr – Dave

6. Know your limits

If you’re too drunk to read the lyrics on the screen, it’s probably a good idea to put the mic down. Don’t be that guy who insists on singing an obscure song, only to fall asleep after the first verse and start drooling, leaving the rest of the party to twiddle their thumbs to the background music as the lyrics flash by on the screen. It’s also probably a good idea also to avoid tackling songs with complicated lyrics or fast raps before you’ve learned them properly. Luckily, karaoke machines come with a convenient “cancel” button that can stop a track dead in its, um, tracks and move on to the next one. But what about your dignity, hmm?

What do you think of this advice? And which do you prefer, Japanese or Western style karaoke?

Feature Image: Flickruka0310