Give Japanese Style Music Therapy A Try!

The concert is well underway. I’m head banging to a heavy metal song, the speakers are pulsing from the energy around us and the audience goes insane as the instrumentals close and I rejoin for the final chorus.

Yet, when I finish, there's no applause. The background track fades away and a small icon glows in front of me.

CALORIES BURNED: 5.6

With a sigh, I drop the mic, hit pause, walk off-stage…and into the bright corridors of Big Echo, one of Japan’s most popular karaoke franchises. 

From other sealed rooms, I hear tortured wails and moans that even hardened veterans of war would probably flinch from in their darkest nightmares as other groups of revelers indulge their inner musicians and let loose in the privacy of the (somewhat) soundproofed rooms and (supposedly) understanding companions. 

I return to my space and strangely, no one has capitalized on my absence to fit in a quick song as I refill my drink and hit ‘Play’ once more. 

You see, I’m in the midst of a solo Karaoke session.

Ricky Martin’s Livin La Vida Loca electrifies the air, chasing away the residual gloom of my last heavy metal song. (If you're interested, it was Planet Hell by Nightwish). I gulp down my ginger ale and stand, daring a blasphemous attempt at dancing. After all, there's no one else to watch me. 

Solo karaoke? Wait, doesn’t that mean karaoke….by one’s self? 

Why, yes, it does. 

Image Via Flickr

Don’t assume that I’m recovering from heartbreak or trying to pull myself out of an existential crisis. I’m a perfectly happy University student, albeit one trying to let off a little steam during finals week. 

Karaoke is generally considered a group activity for large numbers of people to bond over the universal love of music, food, and drinks. It's also quite common for a group of sheepish party goers who’ve missed their last train to move their gathering to the interior of a Karaoke hall and conduct an all-night session to pass time until the first morning train. 

Employees at Karaoke stations have seen it all, from minors pretending to be adults and senior citizens trying to get in on the fun, to stern office goers murdering international hits and foreign residents butchering Japanese ones.

The idea of solo karaoke was suggested to me by a few friends who confessed that they indulged in it at times. I was surprised at first, but soon began to see the potential attraction of the idea.

Karaoke, like all forms of group socialization, comes with a set of unspoken rules and ceremonies: convenient dates and times need to be set, common songs are prioritized over individual favorites, everyone tolerates that one person who loves Taylor Swift too much, cut-ins happen quite frequently, profuse apologies are made before and after each performance, not to mention the silent desperation to seize the control screen and squeeze in one final song into the queue before the clock runs out and it's time for the inevitable splitting of the bill.

Solo karaoke frees one from all aforementioned nuisances, as I found out first-hand while investigating for this report. 

Pink is and will always remain a color to me, Taylor Swift is my mortal nemesis, I can sing one Disney song in total and no one else I’ve ever met seems to be into symphonic metal. Once this would have been a source of contention while deciding a set of common songs to sing. In solo Karaoke however, I could unapologetically draw up an eclectic concert list of everything ranging from K-pop and Japanese anime hits to American rock and Finnish metal songs, without consulting or justifying my tastes to anyone. That act in itself was incredibly liberating. Not to mention, I could shamelessly attempt precarious high notes or pitch the song up or down to suit my ability without consideration for anyone’s ears but my own. 

To answer the burning question in the air: No, people in most reputable karaoke stations do not look at you strangely when you land up at the reception and announce yourself....and only yourself. 

“Ohitorisama desuka?” The man politely asked me when I stumbled into Big Echo, “Are you on your own?” 

Truth be told, he actually looked relieved by the idea of only having to process one customer instead of a boisterous group of twenty people loudly arguing whether they wanted unlimited drinks or not. 

Image Via Flickr

After the necessary paperwork, I had a cup of hot tea and a room to myself for two whole hours (that, I’ll admit, made him blink) to conduct my research. 

Something was bothering me still: what on earth would others think of the concept of solo karaoke? A pitiful symptom of a life with no friends? Or a bold act of rebellion against group activities?

"[A] much needed stress reliever and absolutely exhilarating. Sing what you like for as long as you like without the fear of your neighbors yelling at you to shut up," a Waseda student wrote back, when I casually threw the question around on social media a few days earlier to gauge opinions. I found myself wholeheartedly agreeing as I tried to hit an E6 with a bone-chilling shriek...and failed spectacularly. 

In short, the whole experience was shockingly therapeutic. After sneaking around like an inmate in my own home for fear of disturbing my neighbours on the other side of a paper-thin wall, having a soundproofed and ambient space to scream my lungs out into a reverberating microphone did wonders for my stress levels.

"After three years of going to karaoke with large groups of people and loving it, yet harboring secret desires of monopolizing the mic, I finally swallowed my shame and decided to commit the transgression," an international student in Nagoya commented on my post and I found myself empathizing. Monopolizing the mic, indeed. 

One hour on, I was really enjoying myself. The only pitfalls of the solo arrangement were that precious seconds were shaved off my total when I had to run to the bathroom every now and then, as well as when I had to draw up an entire concert list by myself at the very beginning, which took about twenty minutes. 

Time went faster than I had anticipated and when the warning phone call came in, reminding me that I could extend my appointment for longer if I liked, I was seriously tempted. However, my throat was understandably ragged after a straight two hours of exertion and I put away the system and forced myself to retrieve my scattered things from every corner of the room. 

I went to the cashier, wincing in anticipation of a huge bill that I would have to pay on my own (yet another downfall, I suppose) but to my pleasant joy, my afternoon jaunt was well before the evening rush and for two hours of singing and one drink, minus a student discount and with taxes included, I was charged a grand total of 842 JPY (roughly 7.50 USD). 

It was an unbelievable price to pay for the amount of catharsis I’d experienced. While I’ll always enjoy Karaoke as a way to bond with friends and take pleasure in the little rituals that come with it, solo karaoke is a whole other world and one I’d recommend to anyone who’s feeling in need of a little alone time to recharge, reflect or cast away their worries and let loose. 

Free yourself from social expectation for a few hours and revel in all that undignified, misunderstood glory. 

Some parting tips before you set off to conquer the Karaoke scene:

  • Compare hourly rates, song selection ratings, level of Japanese required and single-user policies at various Karaoke stations in order to find the perfect fit for you. If you’re more of a risk taker, however, just waltz into three or four places and see where you get the best deal (or find your favorite hits). Karaoke stations are everywhere and their competitors are usually placed close together in hot-spots like Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Shibuya. 
  • Mid-morning to late afternoon is a good time to go as the rates are substantially lower than in the evening and night. 
  • If you’re a student, take along a form of ID in case you’d like to make use of the available discounts.
  • If you’re on a budget, bring your own drinks! If you opt for the single beverage plan, remember that chilled soft drinks make you thirsty sooner and sticking to tea is a better bet if you don’t want to constantly make pilgrimages between the restroom and drink bar at ten minute intervals. 
  • If you're alone, don’t leave your valuables unattended!
  • Finally, keep an eye on the time. While most stations will phone you ten minutes beforehand to ensure you don’t forget your allotted time, other places may leave it up to you or worse, charge you the whole of the next hour for going over by just a few minutes. 

 

Image Via Flickr

 

For more information about Solo Karaoke, read on!

Another first-hand experience: http://www.kathrynohalloran.com/blog/2011/01/guide-to-japanese-karaoke.html

Exclusive karaoke locations for solo singers: https://blog.gaijinpot.com/solo-karaoke/

Big Echo karaoke's (somewhat) English website: http://big-echo.jp/welcome-big-echo/

Karaoke on a budget: https://tokyocheapo.com/lifestyle/top-cheap-karaoke-in-tokyo/

Image Credits:

Cover image via Flickr