Everyone from the seasoned traveller to the first timer to the currently stationed know that one of the quintessential Japanese experiences is participating in the art form of Karaoke. Directly translated as “empty orchestra”, Karaoke gives everyday people the chance to emulate their favourite rock, blues, rap, hip hop stars albeit at the expense of their own friends. First timers to Karaoke maybe apprehensive to attempt to belt out the song of their choice, instead choosing to sit form the sidelines and admire the brave and most likely liquored up participants. However, there are plenty of places to find crowds of people happy to listen and sing along to your rendition of Living on a Prayer. Below I will list a few places for both locals and travellers that will provide the best Karaoke experiences.
Types of Karaoke
Before we list the karaoke locations it is first important to understand that there are indeed different types of Karaoke available. The two main types of Karaoke are situated in a bar setting, or in a room setting (often called a box). The differences between the two are the amount of privacy available and the amenities provided. In a Karaoke room, customers are able to hire a room for themselves and their friends and sing comfortably knowing already how bad Steve is at hitting high notes. Another plus side is for those that do not drink, there is free soft drink and often ice cream included in the hire fee. A Karaoke bar on the other hand is of those looking to be a little more adventurous and impress a crowd of unknowns by belting out Highway to Hell. Although it can be daunting, Karaoke bars are always a positive atmosphere and a great place to meet both travellers and locals.
Arguably the biggest Karaoke chain establishment, it is hard to go to any city and not see multiple Jankaras spread throughout. Open 24 hours Jankara offers the latest music with clean and comfortable rooms able to fit anywhere from 2 to upwards to 40 people. With one of the best English selection of songs it is a great pick for those just looking to destroy their vocal chords. Be sure to keep an eye out for the Super Jankara located on Kawaramachi dori as this features a Bouldering/Karaoke room for those looking for an extra challenge.
Located just off of Teramachi, Rainbow Karaoke does not look like it offers much but looks can be deceiving. Inside is a clean, state of the art facility with full soft drink and ice cream bar. For those not confident in your voice, Rainbow provides instrument hire such as tambourines and maracas. For those who are confident (maybe overly so) why not try out the Stage room to complete the singer performance. These karaoke rooms are perfect for those on a budget.
Quickly become a town favourite Barcode offers a large public area for those with the more exhibitionist vocal chords. Nestled just off Kawaramachi dori, Barcode offers a warm international friendly atmosphere with a relaxed feel. The English speaking staff are happy to converse and encourage everyone to sing a tune and get involved. Popular with both Japanese and foreigners this bar is perfect to meet new people or to enjoy as a group. However, on weekends after 10 karaoke is usually turned off and the bar is converted into a dance space although judging by the customer’s reactions, few seem to mind.
A strange name to say but a quaint and appealing bar located in the heart of Kiyamachi dori. Fantasista provides a more intimate singing experience as capacity is no more than 25 people. But don’t let the small size fool you, what it lacks in space it makes up for in energy. The Japanese staff are happy to talk and joke with you in vary abilities of English and are usually the first to choose a song or initiate the start of a drinking game. Fantasista is fantastic place for the individual or small group to come and mingle with the local crowd and swap stories and songs while downing drink after drink. Because of course singing is thirsty work.
If you are looking to find the local crowd or if you are just sick of hearing Wonderwall for the 7 billionth time, then this is the karaoke bar for you. In the middle Kiyamachi dori but hidden on the 2nd floor is a welcoming and cozy Karaoke hideout with quite possibly the most energetic barman in Kyoto. Don’t feel like singing? He will convince you. Don’t want another drink? He can change your mind. The bar is generally filled with its usual dose of Kyoto regulars so Burst offers the availability to connect and pick the brains of the local crowd for a true Japanese experience.
Although there are a few different places in which to perform Karaoke there is only one rule that is necessary in order to truly experience it. Participate. Nobody cares how croaky your voice is or that your notes might be slightly off, embrace it. By remembering this important rule, you are guaranteed to have a good night no matter which place you go to.