Where and when to go
There are many karaoke bars in Japan, but most people rent private karaoke rooms, which come complete with couches, a television screen and microphones, and can fit from one to 15 or more people. Karaoke establishments can be found all around Japan and most big chains (such as Big Echo, Shidax and Jumbo Karaoke) have outlets near major train stations.
Room rates vary depending on when you go. During peak periods (evenings from about 7pm on weekends) they can be as much as 500-600 yen per half hour, while going in the middle of the day during the week can be as cheap as 100 yen per half hour.
Many places offer special rates for “karaoke marathons” – usually at least four hours – or drink-inclusive deals. Prices are usually displayed at the entrance.
What to sing
Once you’ve been shown to your private room, key in your song selection using the remote control or machine provided. If you’re in a group, make sure you take turns choosing songs so there’s a variety of music and everyone gets a chance to sing. While it’s important to choose songs you like, you should also remember that not everyone will share your taste in music, so be open to compromise. It’s best to steer clear of songs that nobody else knows. Don’t worry if you aren’t big on J-pop or don’t know many Japanese songs – nowadays virtually every karaoke establishment has a good selection of songs in English and other languages.
Depending on the group, everyone might sing together, people may want to sing individually, or perhaps a combination of both. Whatever you do, don’t hog the microphone! As a general rule, let the person who chose the song sing solo unless they ask you to join in. Karaoke regulars will usually have a few “signature” songs they always perform. Don’t select someone else’s signature song yourself and don’t join in unless invited.
When it’s not your turn, listen to the person singing. A bit of encouragement and applause makes everyone’s experience more enjoyable. Don’t criticise people’s singing ability or song choice, carry on conversations, ignore the singer, flip through the song book or sing really loudly and drown out the person with the microphone. It is also considered bad form to skip songs or stop them halfway through without the permission of whoever chose them.
The most important thing is to have fun. By observing some simple points of etiquette and being considerate of others, you can enjoy karaoke and so can everyone else.
Meishi (business cards)
Meishi are an important business tool so make sure yours are clean, straight and presentable. You should always stand when exchanging meishi. Offer your meishi with both hands, facing towards the recipient so that they can read the details easily. If you receive a meishi, do not write on it, hurriedly put it in your pocket or disregard it.
Visiting Someone’s House
Shoes are not permitted in most Japanese houses so slippers will often be provided in the entrance (genkan). Store your shoes neatly, facing towards the door. Bathrooms have their own designated communal slippers. Be sure to remove these slippers again before going back to the rest of the house. When leaving the house, place the slippers neatly together, facing away from the front door before putting your shoes back on.
Temples and Shrines
Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines are places of worship so they should be treated with respect. Make a deep bow when you enter the gate (torii), and use the bamboo dippers at the nearby fountain to cleanse your hands and mouth. A small amount of money, called o-saisen, is given at most shrines and clapping, ringing a bell or saying a short prayer are also common.
Chopsticks are to be respected as more than a food implement. Do not leave the chopsticks sticking out of the rice or pass food from chopstick to chopstick; both are ancient funeral rituals. Do not lick, chew or nibble the end of your chopsticks, or use them to move or point at anything. Do not spear your food with the chopsticks. When taking food from a communal plate, use serving spoons if provided, or use the bottom, fatter end of your chopsticks. Only rest chopsticks on a designated chopstick rest.
The ritual of preparing and serving green tea in a formal setting is an art form that can take years to learn. The ceremony uses the finest tools and careful, ritualised movements to focus the mind wholly on the moment, and away from everyday life. Guests wear their best clothes and remove their shoes before kneeling on the tatami mats. Bows are exchanged between the host and the guest (in order of rank) and the bowl must be turned three times before drinking the tea. Conversation is limited to keep the mood tranquil.
Sento (public baths) and onsen (hot spring) bathing culture has a long history in Japan. Male and female baths are separated by curtains marked with different colours and kanji characters – 男 for male and 女 for female. No clothes or swimming costumes are permitted so place your personal belongings in the locker provided and cover yourself with a small towel (tenugui) when walking around. You must wash thoroughly before relaxing in the bath.
In Japan, bowing is an important ritual that conveys respect, acknowledgement and appreciation. The lower you bow, the more respect you show. Before you bow you should straighten your posture and bring your knees and heels together. Your hands should be beside your body or crossed in front of you. Look at the person and try to keep your back straight, bowing slowly and deliberately from the waist or the hips.