Japan is the birthplace of karaoke! Karaoke has evolved in the world, but what is it?

There are probably quite a few people who enjoy singing karaoke in a bar with a mic in their hand.

Did you know that, much like anime, karaoke is a subculture that started in Japan and spread to the rest of the world? In Japan, the home of karaoke, you can find karaoke parlors all over the country, and karaoke culture has its roots so deep in society that it’s rare to find someone who hasn’t experienced karaoke.

This time, we’d like to touch upon how karaoke came to be, and how karaoke has evolved as it has spread out into the world.

Just how did karaoke come about?

Karaoke is pronounced “karaoke,” even in Japanese. In Japanese, the “kara” in “karaoke” means “empty,” and the “oke” is short for “orchestra.” Combined, “karaoke” was originally a technical term that was used in the broadcasting world when records or cassette tapes with musical accompaniment were used in place of live orchestras.

When artists would sing, “karaoke” was used to indicate that it was “without the orchestra,” or, in other words, that the artist was singing along with a pre-recorded accompaniment in place of a live one. This professional musical accompaniment was retooled for the public, and that was the start of the karaoke we know today.

In fact, karaoke for the public was developed in the latter-half of the 1960’s. Early karaoke machines installed in places like bars had a simple setup, where the musical accompaniment and the vocals sung into the mic would be combined and output through a small amplifier.

What is karaoke like in Japan now?

When early karaoke was developed, karaoke in Japan closely resembled that of karaoke in present-day America. It was mostly people singing in open spaces, like bars. In the over half-century since its inception, the way Japanese people enjoy karaoke has changed quite a bit.

Today, when talking about karaoke in Japan, singing in a “karaoke box” is what is most prevalent. A karaoke box is a small room, in a much larger establishment with many other similar rooms in it, where you can sing karaoke. You borrow that room for a set period of time and can enjoy singing with those close to you, like friends and co-workers.

There are establishments with small instruments like tambourines and maracas, and even ones where you can rent cosplay costumes, giving the space a slightly surreal feeling.

Additionally, at many karaoke boxes you can relax and enjoy karaoke along with the refreshments on offer, like snacks, pizza, pasta, and drinks that even include alcohol.

Karaoke is popular all over the world! Different regions have different styles

Karaoke that started in Japan has spread not just to America, but all over the world.

It’s said that it was in the 1980’s that karaoke spread to other countries. Karaoke, which had become incredibly popular in Japan, first traveled to Taiwan. After that, Japanese living abroad and Chinese and other nationals who had lived in Japan brought it to each region in Asia, and from there it gradually spread to North America and Europe.

Karaoke has spread all over the world; however, it has evolved differently in each country and region. For example, in Europe, generally people sing in front of others in bars and restaurants, much like in America. In China, there are one-person karaoke booths installed in public spaces like shopping malls, which are popular as they are readily available for people to sing between trips to different stores while shopping. Also popular in China are apps that allow users to sing karaoke freely with their smartphones.


In Japan, the birthplace of karaoke, karaoke is a culture that is incredibly popular and has taken deep root in society.

If you happen to have the opportunity to travel to Japan, we hope that you experience karaoke in its home. There are karaoke box establishments all over Japan, making it easy to give it a try. For those who don’t have the opportunity to visit Japan, you can enjoy karaoke at our group’s restaurants (see below) in California in the US.

Bishamon Karaoke
Lounge Ohjah

If you happen to have the opportunity to travel to California, we hope that you try out the karaoke culture that has become popular the world over.

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