There are lots of ways to spend your free time in Japan; roadtrips, bowling, taking one-off cultural lessons, and, of course, karaoke. If you’re downtown in any given city in Japan, you’ll run across the Jankaras, the Shidaxes, the mom and pop snack bars that offer karaoke, and a host of other options. Depending on your group size or even what you like to sing, the world is at your fingertips in terms of options.
While walking the streets of Kyoto, I’ve noticed that something else has been popping up beside the karaoke boxes: climbing gyms. You can go in for one-off sessions, or sign up for a monthly membership just like you would at a traditional gym. Whether you’re already a lean, mean, climbing machine or a newbie, there’s something available for you.
It was only a matter of time before someone mashed those two ideas together.
Who here likes singing in the shower or in the car?
How about singing while goofing off with your friends?
…How about singing in front of people you don’t know?
Yeah I’m not a fan of that last one either, but I get a kick out of the first two. In Japan, however, the insulation in the walls is…. lacking, to say the least, and while my voice isn’t offensively bad, I’m sure my neighbors appreciate quiet more than me belting out the latest musical hits over and over again. Luckily, in Japan there are karaoke boxes, places where you can rent a room by the hour (or for a set time) to sing your heart out to all sorts of tunes. They often offer things like free soft drinks, tambourines, snacks you can order in addition to the base charge of the room, etc.
Which is great when you have a group of friends together, but what about when you’re on your own and you just want to sing your heart out without bothering anybody?
That is where Ichikara comes in.
Ichikara (イチカラ) is run by Jankara, one of the major karaoke chains in Japan. Its’ name translates to “From one”, meaning that rather than a group, this place is meant for individuals. The idea is simple: rather than giving you a large room, it instead offers a private booth with headphones. For a set hourly rate, you’re offered free soft drinks and a room with a lock that allows you to practice whatever songs you like.
As someone who used to blast (and belt) Phantom of the Opera in the car on the way to work in America, it’s taken some time to adjust to paying for a place where I can sing without people getting irritated at me. However, there are some perks to it that I’ve really come to like.
The chance to practice. We all have songs that we’ve listened to dozens of times and think we kn0w–but the minute we load it up in a karaoke machine, our minds go blank or, even worse, we realize we’ve been singing it at the wrong “octave” and now everything sounds funny. Having a chance to practice, especially in private, does wonders for ones’ confidence levels.
Practicing the local language. Japan is not the only country to offer this style of karaoke, and it doesn’t only offer songs in Japanese. There are plenty of English, Korean, or even Chinese songs to pick from. I’ve noticed that when I spend an hour singing Japanese songs, however, my speaking, listening comprehension, and reading abilities are much sharper afterward.
Getting out of the house. Frankly, having an excuse to leave the house is nice. I can easily spend an entire weekend at home fussing around, so having somewhere to go–even if it’s to a karaoke booth so I can sing uninterrupted–is a nice change of pace.
One downside to the booth option is that they are very limited in number compared to the usual karaoke rooms; in Kyoto as of June 24th, there are a grand total of two Ichikara shops versus dozens of standard karaoke rooms. Another can be price–if you’re able to get a regular room on your own, it can be cheaper per hour depending on where you go.
But that’s just it; if you can get a room on your lonesome. While some standard karaoke places are fine with a single person renting a room, others may turn you down or point you in the direction of an Ichikara. I prefer to avoid the whole potential run-around and just go to the place that’s geared toward individuals, and save the rooms for when I’m ready to horrify dazzle people with my singing skills.
If you get a chance, check one out for yourself and see if you like the differences!